One of the services we offer here at Skin Associates of South Florida is screening for skin cancer. Although some recent reports have suggested that screening for skin cancer does not ultimately save lives, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say this:
“The USPSTF has concluded there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screening (total body examination by a doctor) to find skin cancers early. This recommendation is for people who do not have a history of skin cancer and who do not have any suspicious moles or other spots.” If you have a close relative who has had skin cancer or have a history of pre-cancerous spots yourself, we recommend at least annual skin exams to check for cancer.
Our physicians prefer to err on the side of caution, barring more conclusive research to the contrary. Because one in every three cancers diagnosed is skin cancer, and because of the more intensive sun exposure we receive here in the southern latitudes, it just makes sense. According to the World Health Organization, two million to three million non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year; 132,000 melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed annually.
The good news is, the average survival rate of those diagnosed with melanoma has soared, from 49 percent in 1950 to 91 percent today, according to the American Cancer Society. Part of this can certainly be attributed to increased awareness and early detection—if a melanoma is caught early patients can be completely cured.
So, what can you expect when you come to us for skin cancer screening?
Known as a total body skin exam, the entire exam will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll be asked to disrobe and put on a standard patient gown. The dermatologist will begin with your scalp and work down your neck, chest, arms and so forth, down to your toes. If you prefer not to have your genital area examined, be sure to say so before the exam starts. In that case, you may leave on your underwear. But rest assured, our physicians are professionals who approach such examinations in an entirely clinical manner. It is also important to inform the doctor if you have noticed any unusual spots in this area, because they should be examined.
Our physician will also check for abnormalities on the lips, tongue, eyelids and behind the ears. In other words, every part of the skin surface will be examined, even if it has never been exposed to the sun. We depend on the naked eye to perform the initial examination, and use a magnifying light called a dermatoscope to home in on any areas of concern.
What will we be looking for? Moles or other skin abnormalities that show evidence of change or irregularities: abnormal size, unusual color, shape or texture of skin, as well as irregular skin patches. Don’t forget to notify us if anything is new or changing on your skin or if any growths have developed symptoms like itching or bleeding.
Non- or pre-cancerous spots can be dealt with right there, using liquid nitrogen, a super-cold liquid that will be sprayed on the offending area to freeze the tissue. This results in a blister that will slough off within a few days. It is generally not painful, and takes just a few seconds.
Any spots your physician finds that might be considered suspicious will result in a biopsy. This entails the injection of a local anesthetic (the only discomfort you’ll feel) before the spot is removed and sent to a lab for evaluation. Depending on the size of the lesion, you may receive either a Band-Aid or a stitch or two to close the wound. You can expect lab results within two weeks.
The board-certified MD dermatologists at Skin Associates of South Florida agree with the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) in recommending yearly full skin exams.
The AAD came up with a fun slogan to help patients remember to get their annual exam, ‘check your birthday suit on your birthday!’ We hope to see you in the office sometime soon for your annual skin cancer screening checkup.