Skin cancer is, by far, the most common type of cancer. There are several types of this cancer, including melanoma, Merkel cell cancer, and several types of carcinoma. It is important to have your skin tested for cancer regularly because the prognosis tends to be better when it is caught in one of the earlier stages. Today, the office of Dr. Michael I. Jacobs in New York, NY is answering some of the most commonly asked questions about diagnostic testing.
How Often Should You Get Checked for Skin Cancer?
Most people should get checked for skin cancer annually. However, you may benefit from getting tested twice per year if your risk of developing this condition is high. If you’ve never had your skin tested for cancer, your dermatologist will tell you during your first cancer screening how often you should be evaluated. However, a conversation about your family’s health history, your medical records, and your lifestyle are required to make this determination.
What Is the Best Age To Start Getting Tested?
As a general rule of thumb, you should get your first professional, complete-body skin exam when you are in your 20s or 30s. However, there is no universal guideline. You should get tested earlier if your risk of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, merkel cell cancer or squamous cell carcinoma is higher. Some of the most significant risk factors include a family history of this type of cancer, moles, and a personal history of not wearing sunscreen.
Do I Really Need To Worry About My Moles?
If you have normal moles, you don’t need to worry about them if they are not causing you pain or discomfort. However, if you have atypical moles, they may be malignant rather than benign. If you notice new moles, try to remember the ABCDEs of atypical moles. If any of your moles are atypical, you should schedule a dermatology appointment right away.
- A – asymmetrical
- B – borders are irregular
- C – colors are dark and multiple
- D – diameter larger than 6 mm
- E – evolving or bleeding
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma, or black tumor, is a type of cancer that only makes up around 1% of all skin cancers. However, it is very important to identify this cancer as soon as possible because it has the potential to grow very rapidly. Also, this type of cancer can spread to any organ, including the heart and lungs. This type of cancer grows out of a special type of skin cell called a melanocyte.
Melanocytes are the skin cells responsible for producing melanin. Most of the time, melanoma is dark in color. It is not uncommon for melanomas to be brown or black. However, regular skin tests are important because you may have melanomas on your skin that are the same color as your skin, purple, pink, or red. In fact, 70% of melanomas grow out of regular skin cells rather than moles.
Where Can Melanoma Form?
Usually, men develop melanoma on their trunk. It is incredibly common for melanoma to first develop on a man’s upper back. On the other hand, melanoma is usually first detected on a woman’s legs. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that this type of cancer can start to develop anywhere, including the internal organs and eyes.
What Causes This Type of Cancer?
There are several potential causes of melanoma. However, 86 out of 100 times, melanoma is caused by solar rays. Solar rays can cause cancer because they damage the DNA of your cells. When your cells’ DNA changes, its growth mechanisms change.
Note, however, that any ultraviolet rays can affect your skin cells’ DNA eventually. In fact, the World Health Organization declared tanning beds a carcinogen. Tanning beds may be the cause of over 6,000 melanoma cases in the country every year.
Who Can Develop Melanoma?
Anyone can develop melanoma. However, some people have a higher risk for developing this relatively rare skin cancer than others. Here are some of the most significant risk factors of developing melanoma:
- A history of using tanning beds
- A history of blistering sunburns
- Fair skin
- Blue eyes
- Red or blond hair
- Immune system disorders
Note, while having fair skin is a very significant risk factor, this condition can develop in individuals with dark skin. The darker your skin is, the more likely it is that you will first develop melanoma on your nails, the palms of your hands, or the soles of your feet.
What Are the Stages of Melanoma?
The first stage of melanoma is sometimes known as melanoma in situ or Stage 0. Melanoma in this stage is only being produced in the epidermis. The second stage of melanoma is known as Stage I. Melanoma in this stage has not noticeably spread, and surgery can usually cure this disease. The third stage of melanoma is known as Stage II.
Like Stage 0 and Stage I melanomas, there is no evidence that the cancer is spreading when the melanoma is in Stage II. Stage III melanoma is melanoma that is clearly spreading to nearby skin or lymph nodes. Finally, Stage IV melanoma has spread significantly throughout the body.
What’s the Importance of Getting Tested Early?
It is important to get tested for skin cancer early and often because the earlier you catch cancerous skin cells, the more likely you are to have a favorable outcome. Prognoses vary based on the type of cancer and the stage it is in. However, it is more likely that your treatment will be more effective when the cancer is caught in the first or second stage.
How Long Will My Exam Take?
You can expect your skin evaluation to take approximately 10 minutes if you have never had cancer affect your skin cells and you don’t have a history of atypical moles. During your exam, you will be asked to put on a medical gown. If you don’t have any concerning spots on your genitalia, you will be allowed to wear your underwear, but you will need to remove the rest of your clothes before you don the gown.
Your full-body skin examination may take quite a bit longer than 10 minutes if you have a history of cancer affecting your skin or you have moles that may be malignant. If any spots look like they may be cancerous, we will biopsy them. In other words, we will remove all or a portion of the suspicious lesions and have them tested for cancer. If the spots are cancerous, we will advise you on what type of cancer you have and what the next steps are.
How Should I Prepare for My Exam?
It is highly advisable that you attend your appointment with your hair down and no cosmetics on your body. If you choose to wear makeup to your appointment, bring makeup remover. Your makeup must be removed before your skin can be examined. It is ideal to come in with your hair down because your hair must be down for your examination. We must examine your scalp thoroughly for signs of cancer.
The scalp is one of the most common areas to get cancer because people are more likely to protect other parts of their body, like their face and arms, from sun damage. On that note, keep in mind that after years of sun damage, cancer on your scalp can occur. It is advisable to minimize your time spent outdoors between 10 and 4 if your risk of cancer is high. Also, apply an SPF 30+ scalp and hair mist to your scalp before you go outside.
What Other Areas Will Be Examined Thoroughly?
During your full-body skin exam, we will examine all of your skin thoroughly. However, we will take particular care to look for signs of cancer in areas that you may have trouble seeing, like:
- Between your toes
- Your middle back
- Your buttocks
- Behind your ears
Schedule Your Full-Body Skin Exam Today
Most people should get a full-body skin exam once per year starting when they are in their 20s or 30s. However, the higher your risk of skin cancer is, the more frequently you should come in for examinations. The sooner the cancer is detected, the better your prognosis generally is. If it’s been at least a year since your skin was last tested for cancer, schedule a full-body skin exam right away at the office of Dr. Michael I. Jacobs in New York, NY.