With spring’s arrival – and not a moment too soon – now feels like as good a time as any to re-emphasize the importance regular skin checks. Not just the kind you should be getting annually at your dermatologist’s, but also the ones you should be doing on your own at least once a month.
Here’s why the combination of both is important: More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined. Basically, if you have skin, you’re at risk for developing skin cancer at some point in your life.
Daunting as that probably sounds, we also have this unique ability to see skin cancer on the skin, which grants us the opportunity to detect skin cancers early. That’s crucial because skin cancer, even melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is almost always completely curable when it’s found and treated early.
Don’t skip your annual dermatologist skin check
Everyone over the age of 18 should have a skin check with a board-certified dermatologist once a year, even if you don’t have a family history of skin cancer. If a parent or sibling has had melanoma, you should be seen twice a year.
This applies to everyone, regardless of skin tone. While melanoma is less common in Black and brown skin, it’s often diagnosed at a later stage among those with colored skin, and, as a result, usually has a worse outcome. According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated five-year melanoma survival rate for Black patients between 2010 and 2016 was 67%, compared with 92% for white patients.
If you’re unsure about your family history, take a quick count of the number of moles you see on your body. The more you have, the higher your risk for skin cancer.
Beyond being able to see all the spots that are difficult for you to see yourself (behind your ears, in your butt crack), a dermatologist has the training and tools to conduct a thorough examination. Among the tools at their disposal is something called a dermatoscope, which is like a handheld magnifying glass, but with polarized lighting that enables dermatologists to see the depth, patterns, and features of moles.
What’s the point of a self-skin check?
If the dermatologist’s exam is so thorough, you may be wondering, what’s the point of doing skin checks on my own? In short, because no one knows your body as well as you do. Although a dermatologist can notice a change in the shape or size of a sunspot or mole over the course of 12 or six months, you might be able to spot it much sooner.
In my next post, I’ll outline what, exactly, you should be looking for when you do a self-skin check. For now, if something looks suspicious, but you’re not sure if it’s anything, always error on the side of caution. It’s better to have it checked out by a dermatologist and have it be nothing than to assume a wait-and-see approach.