Every day, 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer. Every day.
To put it more bluntly: If you have skin, you’re at risk for getting skin cancer.
Being diligent about seeing a board-certified dermatologist on a regular basis is important because almost all skin cancer, even melanoma, the deadliest kind, is treatable when it’s caught at an early stage. But there’s no one more familiar with your body than you, which makes self-skin checks in between those appointments every bit as vital.
With that in mind, I’ll be dedicating my next two blog posts to skin checks. Below, I discuss how frequently you should schedule a skin check with a dermatologist and what you can expect during the appointment. In my next post, I’ll get into how exactly you should do a self-skin check and what you should be looking for.
How often should you schedule a skin check with a dermatologist?
If you’re over 18, you should have a skin check with a dermatologist once a year. That’s assuming you’ve never been diagnosed with skin cancer and your parents have never been diagnosed with melanoma. If you have, or they have, then you should be seen at least twice a year.
This goes for all skin tones. If you have fair skin, you’re at a heightened risk for developing skin cancer. But those with Black and brown skin are not immune. Yes, melanoma is less common among people with colored skin, but it’s also often diagnosed at a later stage and, as a result, has a worse prognosis.
According to a report earlier this year from the American Cancer Society, the estimated five-year survival rate for Black patients diagnosed with melanoma between 2010 and 2016 was 67%. For white patients, it was 92%.
If you don’t know your family history with skin cancer, take a look in the mirror. The more moles you have, the higher your risk for developing skin cancer.
What can I expect during a skin check with a dermatologist?
A lot of cancer screenings can be unpleasant, but a skin check is simple and painless. Your dermatologist is going to check every inch of your body, including between your toes, behind your ears, and even in your butt crack.
They may use a tool called a dermatoscope, which is kind of like a handheld magnifier, but with polarized lighting that enables them to see the depth, patterns, and features of moles.
Thorough as your dermatologist will be, it helps to say something if there’s a sunspot that concerns you. Sometimes a sunspot is just a sunspot. And sometimes it’s a cancerous mole.
If your dermatologist suspects a cancerous mole, they might employ a new, noninvasive technology called DermTech, which looks like a piece of Scotch tape. When it’s placed on the mole, it releases some of the mole’s RNA. From that, it’s able to detect genetic mutations, which occur more commonly in melanoma than in harmless sunspots.
Your dermatologist will also likely note the locations and size of various freckles and moles to make it easier the next time to spot the appearance of new sunspots and changes in existing ones.
The whole thing should be done in less than 15 minutes.