Early Detection Of Skin Cancer Can Save Lives

dermatologist examining a mole on patient's back

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans. In fact, it is estimated that more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.

Dermatologist Elizabeth Spiers, MD answers some important questions about what you should be doing to prevent and detect skin cancer.

I go to the dentist at least once a year to get my teeth cleaned. Should I also be seeing a dermatologist once a year to be checked for skin cancer?

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests an annual skin exam by a professional for adults since most skin cancer is curable if caught in an early stage. If there is a family history of melanoma, children should begin screening around puberty or age 10. If there is a concern about a mole or the child has atypical moles then the child should be seen no matter their age. Often the pediatrician or family doctor will suggest a dermatology visit if they note something of concern.

Are babies and kids under 18 too young to get skin cancer?

While melanoma is rare in children, the incidence is increasing. Children's skin should be protected with sunscreen and clothing to minimize sun damage and later risk of skin cancer. Blistering burns in childhood increase the risk of melanoma. Melanoma can develop in congenital nevi (birthmarks) in children, particularly large congenital nevi. Tanning beds may contribute to the development of melanoma in teenage girls.

I've been meaning to get this weird new mole checked out but just haven't gotten to the doctor. Why is it important that I get this checked out sooner rather than later?

In the event of melanoma, early detection can be lifesaving. If you find a suspicious mole, you should see your dermatologist as soon as possible.

While non-melanoma skin cancer tends to be less dangerous, some types such as basal cell carcinoma can be locally destructive invading deeply into the skin of the nose or ear for example. Surgical scars may be smaller and less noticeable if the tumor is treated in a prompt fashion.

My friend has a strange-looking mole. Should I mention it to him?

Yes I think you should mention it. I would encourage your friend to see the dermatologist. There are many harmless skin conditions that can look concerning to an untrained person. Since early detection of skin cancer is so important, a dermatology evaluation is strongly advised.

How often should I do a self-examination? Do I check everywhere on my body?

Skin self-examination should be performed on a monthly basis. Since not all skin cancer comes from sun exposure, it is important to pay attention to all areas of your skin such as your scalp and even the bottom of your feet. Instructions on performing skin self examination can be found on the American Academy of Dermatology's website.

I want to get a "base tan" before summer. Should I go to an indoor tanning place or try a tanning cream?

A tan is a sign of sun damage and attempts to tan are not advised whether it is from sunlight or tanning beds. Tanning beds are considered to be carcinogenic (cancer causing) like smoking. Even one time in a tanning bed increases skin cancer risk. If you like the look of color, use of a self-tanner is fine.

About Doylestown Health Cancer Institute

Doylestown Health Cancer Institute offers patients the quality care they expect from a leader in cancer diagnosis and treatment - close to home. Accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, and a member of Jefferson's Sidney Kimmel Cancer Network, our board-certified physicians and oncology-certified practitioners provide comprehensive, coordinated care and services for the full range of cancer diagnoses including breast, lung, urologic, gastrointestinal and other cancers.

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