Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States, with over 3.3 million Americans treated for non-melanoma skin cancer and an estimated 76,380 treated for invasive melanoma every year. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (both non-melanoma cancers) account for most cases. Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, and also the deadliest. Fortunately, when found and removed early skin cancer is nearly always curable. Routine screenings are the key. Patients who have a personal or family history of skin cancer should be screened by a dermatologist annually. During the exam, every inch of skin will be thoroughly checked for signs of pre-cancer, including the scalp, between toes, behind the ears and the soles of the feet. Patients should remove all nail polish prior to the screening, as cancers can develop in nails and nail beds. The length of the exam depends on the number of moles a patient has. It should take only about 10 minutes for a person who’ve never had any unusual moles.
Unlike other cancers, the cause of skin cancer is known. Most cases are the result of exposure to ultraviolet rays, either from the sun or tanning beds. Individuals with a personal or family history of skin cancer, people with skin that burns or freckles easily, blue or green eyes and blond or red hair, are most susceptible. However, everyone should take preventative measures to keep their skin healthy. These include:
• Apply sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 before going outdoors, even when the weather is cloudy or cool.
• Avoid indoor tanning.
If a potentially cancerous mole is discovered during your screening, the dermatologist may perform a biopsy. A local anesthetic is used to numb the skin, then a sample of the suspicious tissue is removed and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. If the biopsy reveals the presence of skin cancer, it will be removed at a later time.