A few decades ago, Americans put considerable time and effort into suntanning, dismissing sunburns as an inconvenience on the way to healthier-looking skin. Times have changed, of course, and now skin cancer is recognized as the most common type of cancer in the world. Sunblock has become an essential component of beach bags everywhere, and natural-looking skin has become the standard for beauty no matter its tone.
Along with this respect for the sun has come a host of innovative methods for identifying and treating the damage it can cause. Unfortunately, few of these techniques can be performed accurately and reliably at home. Instead, the only dependable way to get a skin cancer screening is by seeing a medical professional who specializes in dermatology.
With that in mind, here are four good reasons to schedule a skin screening today:
One: The earlier you catch skin cancer, the more treatment options are available. It all starts with self-exams. Doctors recommend that once a month you look over the spots on your skin, noting their shape and size. This historical information about how your spots, blemishes and lumps change over time – they may grow, change shape or become sensitive, for example – will help your medical professional to determine whether they should be treated or not. It’s important to share that information with a medical professional on a regular basis.
“Spots that are new, changing rapidly or hurt should be addressed right away by a medical professional,” says Jennifer Laframboise, a Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner who practices at Valley Dermatology Clinic in Grand Forks, North Dakota. “The earlier we can identify risks, the more likely we are to find an effective treatment.”
Two: Moles can be tricky. Moles are very common. They are pigmented, raised spots on our skin made up of skin cells that have grown as a group instead of individually. Moles can develop from sun exposure, but we are also born with them. Genetics can play a big part of how many moles we have.
Most moles are harmless. On the other hand, melanoma, one of the most harmful kinds of skin cancer, often starts as a brown spot that looks a lot like a mole. Unlike common moles, these spots are often asymmetrical – if you drew a line through the center, the two halves would not match – and have irregular borders. It’s helpful to know what to look for, but it takes an experienced medical professional to tell the difference with confidence.
Monitor your moles, then report the facts during your appointment. By utilizing a keen eye and the latest diagnostic technology, your dermatology team can determine which of your moles should be tested more closely.
Three: Sunburns add up. A single sunburn is painful, but the lasting impact on our health is usually negligible. However, it only takes about five sunburns over time to raise your chances of contracting skin cancer considerably.
“Sunburn has a cumulative effect on our skin,” says Laframboise. “That’s why regular screening appointments are so important. Our skin changes over time. Each time we damage it, we increase the potential for problems.”
Four: Cancer doesn’t care how old you are. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a complete skin examination annually for all patients, regardless of age. While skin cancer risk does increase with age (not surprising, now that we know that skin damage is cumulative), it isn’t uncommon in those younger than 30. In fact, the American Cancer Society says that it is one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
It pays to have a skin cancer screening no matter how old you are. Peace of mind is invaluable, and early detection is critical to treatment success.
To schedule your annual skin cancer screening, contact your family physician or dermatologist. In eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, Valley Dermatology Clinic is a great place to start. Just call 877-746-7521 or go online to valleydermatologyclinic.com.