By definition, skin cancer screening is a medical dermatological process of detecting pre-cancerous or cancerous skin growths. If you suspect an abnormal mole growth or skin lesion, contact Colorado Springs Dermatology Clinic for your screening.
The most common form of cancer in the United States, skin cancer has grown to epidemic proportions, with more than a million new cases reported every year [source: CDC Skin Cancer Statistics]. Because of this, the a careful, routine self-examination of the skin is recommended to note any new or changing lesions. If you find any of the following, you should make an appointment to see your dermatologist:
- any mole that has changed in color, shape or size
- a sore that never completely heals
- a crusty or scaly lesion
- a firm, red bump that is growing quickly
- a waxy or pearly bump
If any of these growths concern your dermatologist, further diagnostic tests may be performed.
Why Are Skin Cancer Screenings Important?
With skin cancer affecting one in five Americans and over three million new cases diagnosed every year, skin cancer is on the upswing and routine screenings by a dermatologist are one of the best ways to catch this cancer early. However, with early detection and appropriate treatment, the cure rates for common cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are around 95 percent. A more serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, also has a high cure rate when it is detected and treated before it spreads. Because melanoma grows for a long time under the top layer of skin before penetrating deeper, there is time for it to be found earlier and treated in a timely manner.
What Is Screening?
Screening is simply looking for a cancer before a patient experiences any symptoms, since in the early stages abnormal skin tissue or cancerous cells are easier to treat. When symptoms become more evident, the cancer may have already started to spread.
What Will the Doctor Look For?
The dermatologist will perform a full body skin exam, taking notes of new or changing moles, growths or lesions. Tell your physician about any changes you have noticed, as you know your skin better than anyone. If you have noted rough areas, itching, bleeding or changing moles, let your physician take a look.
How Long Does It Take?
Generally, a skin screening is brief, taking about ten minutes. If a patient has had any atypical, or dysplastic, moles, the exam may take longer, particularly if moles are numerous. Dysplastic moles are benign growths, but could indicate a higher risk of skin cancer.
What Is a Self-Exam?
Your doctor may instruct you on how to properly conduct a self-examination of your skin. To do this, you need to know what to look for and where to look. For example, you should not ignore easily overlooked areas like the scalp, soles of the feet and between the toes. It’s also advisable to remove all nail polish from fingernails and toenails, as skin cancers can form in nails and nail beds.
What If a Screening Test is Abnormal?
If an initial skin cancer screening is abnormal, your physician may order further diagnostic testing, such as a skin biopsy. This involves the doctor removing a layer of skin to send to a lab for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. Sometimes the biopsy is also checked by a second pathologist as it can be difficult to tell if a skin growth is benign or malignant. Be sure to ask your doctor questions, whether recommendations for further research or concerns you have been experiencing.
Are Screenings Always Right?
Although skin cancer screenings allow millions of skin cancers to be properly treated, there is always the chance of a false-negative or false-positive result. If screening tests appear normal even though cancer is present, this is considered a false-negative result, which may delay a patient’s getting necessary medical care even if symptoms are present. A false-positive test may indicate cancer is present when it is not, leading to unnecessary anxiety and further testing, such as biopsies, which can carry risks including scarring and infection.