The Important Benefits of an Annual Skin Check
We can discover a lot about the health of the skin when we conduct a thorough skin check. Its condition can reflect what’s happening throughout your body.
As a living part of our bodies, our skin is susceptible to many of the cellular issues that can affect any other body part. For the skin, cancer is a big concern. It can affect either sex at any age, and although people of certain nationalities have higher rates of this type of cancer, no one is statistically immune. The American Academy of Dermatology says that 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed at some time in their lives.
Why do we say “annual” dermatology skin checks? Because after using a good sunscreen, which we’ll talk about below, early detection is the most important strategy in combating skin cancer. By having a proper screening by a licensed dermatologist every year, you significantly reduce your chances of developing a very serious problem.
Understanding the different types of skin cancer
A thorough skin check can detect both of the basic types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. Both can be dangerous, but melanoma, although it is less prevalent than the other variety, is far more deadly. Keep in mind, however, that all cancers present a serious health risk, so just because certain types are less “statistically” deadly than others, no cancer should ever be ignored.
The most common cause of skin cancer is sun-damaged skin. And it’s important to note that this means all levels of damage, not just repeated major sunburns. Virtually any exposure to the sun can cause some amount of damage, because skin in its natural state has no protection against the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
What does skin cancer look like?
It’s important to do regular self-exam skin checks at home, so you need to know what skin cancer looks like.
The majority of skin cancers are non-melanoma, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are both malignant cancers. While they don’t typically spread to other areas of the body, they can result in disfigurement if not treated right away.
When affecting the head or neck, these cancers often present with an odd growth on the skin such as a sore or a bump that doesn’t eventually disappear. Blood vessels may be visible in the bump, and part of the bump may be indented. On other parts of the body, carcinomas can appear as a flesh-colored lesion or a brown-tinted scar. Spots may bleed or release a liquid substance.
Generally, basal cell carcinoma is characterized by a smooth, off-white appearance, while the surface of squamous cell carcinoma bumps is often rough. Either type of carcinoma can develop in a flat area that makes it hard to distinguish from healthy skin.
An aggressive strain of skin cancer called melanoma is the biggest concern. It is characterized by metastasis, which means it spreads to other areas of the body. Left untreated, melanoma may be fatal. Fortunately, this is much more rare than basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas.
Spotting melanoma in a self-exam can be tricky, but check out the tips below.
The ABCD Rule in spotting melanoma
To spot melanoma, experts use the ABCD Rule, that goes like this:
A – Asymmetry. Moles with asymmetrical shapes or where one side appears different in shape from the other could be melanoma.
B – Border. Spots with irregular borders can indicate this form of cancer.
C – Color. Watch for moles that change color or have an uneven distribution of color throughout them.
D – Diameter. Melanoma commonly presents in moles that have a diameter of greater than a quarter inch (about as big as the eraser on a pencil).
In doing a self-exam, you’re primarily looking for spots or bumps that are new, that don’t go away and that change in color, size, shape or all three. If you detect any odd-looking areas on any part of your skin, you should arrange for a dermatology skin check, which is the only certain way to determine what’s happening.
This principle applies to all conditions and diseases that affect the human body: while some preliminary “self-diagnosis” is fine, only a trained diagnostician can assess a person’s symptoms and deliver an accurate diagnosis. With skin cancer and many other conditions affecting the skin, symptoms can often relate to more than one illness, so never self-diagnose in lieu of seeing a qualified doctor.
Best way to prevent skin cancer
A variety of sunscreens are available that provide an effective block to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When shopping, read the labels and find a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Thirty and higher is even better. Use your sunscreen on all exposed body areas any time you expect to be in the sun for more than 15-30 minutes to prevent the effects of sun damaged skin. If you expect extended exposure to the sun, follow package directions for re-application.
Read our article here about skin care strategy tips to help proactively protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
Skin cancer treatment
DermSurgery Associates Clinics offer a variety of treatments for skin cancer that we might discover in an annual skin check. With an up-to-99% cure rate, Mohs surgery is one of the most effective options available. It is ideal for cancers on the scalp, lips, ears and nose. Our own Dr. Leonard Goldberg is a world renowned Mohs skin cancer surgeon. He leads a team of talented DermSurgery physicians who specialize in the Mohs micrographic surgery procedure. This exceptional team includes Dr. Arash Kimyai-Asadi, Dr. Lucile E. White, Dr. Anna Drosou and Dr. Diane Trieu – all Fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons and experts in this highly effective treatment.
Photodynamic Therapy is another specialized treatment for skin cancer available at DermSurgery Associates. In photodynamic therapy, we apply a photosensitizer to the skin. Rapidly growing cancer cells will absorb this photosynthesizer. We then illuminate the area with a high-intensity light or laser that will cause a reaction in the skin, resulting in destruction of the targeted tissue.
Other conditions detectable in a skin check:
- rashes like psoriasis, excema or rosacea
- nail fungus like onychomycosis
- lesions and formations like actinic keratosis or warts.
All of these skin conditions are highly treatable by your physician at DermSurgery Associates and it’s important to detect them as early as possible. This is why getting an annual skin check is so important. Call your nearest DermSurgery Associates clinic at (713) 791-9966 or click here to schedule yours today.