What Should I Expect During My Skin Cancer Screening?

With the staggering prevalence of skin cancer cases – and the numbers continuing to rise each year – it is more important than ever for patients of all ages to understand the signs and symptoms of the disease and to undergo regular skin cancer screenings with their board-certified dermatologist. The exceptional team at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute, including fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Aradhna Saxena and board-certified dermatologist Dr. David Kasper, is dedicated to helping Philadelphia, PA area patients avoid the devastating effects of skin cancer through prevention, early detection, and treatment. 

Without a doubt, one of the most beneficial things patients can do to ensure their health and safety of their skin is to undergo routine skin checks. If you have never had a skin cancer screening with your dermatologist, read on to learn what to expect during the appointment and why it is so important.

What is a skin cancer screening?

A skin cancer screening is a simple, yet highly effective, method for evaluating the health of a patient’s skin and identifying potential signs or symptoms of skin cancer. During the appointment, your board-certified dermatologist will use a variety of tools and techniques to evaluate your skin, from head to toe, and look for any signs of these four types of skin cancer:

  • Actinic Keratoses: Also known as AK, this condition is usually considered precancerous and may eventually turn into another type of skin cancer, namely squamous cell carcinoma. Actinic keratoses are most common in patients over 40 and generally develop on areas that have had prolonged sun exposure, including the head, neck, arms, and hands. 
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): This is the most common type of skin cancer and can develop anywhere on the body. BCC can be effectively treated in the majority of cases, which is crucial in avoiding permanent damage and deformities that could develop if left untreated. BCC typically presents itself as an area of a pinkish hue, or a bump that is skin-colored or pearl-like. BCC can look harmless in many cases, and sometimes even go unnoticed, so it is important to be evaluated by a professional. 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): SCC lesions are typically firm, red bumps, recurrent sores, or scaly patches on the skin. SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer and should also be treated immediately to avoid permanent complications.
  • Melanoma: While it is not the most common type of skin cancer, melanoma is arguably the most well-known and certainly the most dangerous, accounting for the majority of skin cancer deaths in America each year. Using the ABCDEs of skin cancer, Dr. Saxena and Dr. Kasper thoroughly evaluate any areas that may look suspicious for melanoma, such as a dark spot that has suddenly appeared or changed in appearance over time. 

What is involved in a skin cancer screening? 

During your skin cancer screening appointment at the Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute, you will likely be asked to change into a medical gown and sit or lie down in one of our comfortable private rooms. Your board-certified dermatologist will take your medical history, discuss any specific areas of concern, and answer your questions at length before conducting a thorough examination. The doctor will visually inspect your skin and use a special scope to more closely evaluate the features of any suspicious areas or spots, including moles, sun spots, and discolorations. 

Dr. Saxena and Dr. Kasper employ the ABCDEs of skin cancer screening when characterizing notable areas. This is a useful method in conducting at-home screenings between your in-office appointments and is highly recommended. Many cancerous moles display one or more of the ABCDE characteristics, defined as:

  • Asymmetry: an irregular shape
  • Border: blurred, jagged, or broken border
  • Color: multicolored (shades of black, brown, or tan)
  • Diameter: greater than 6mm in diameter 
  • Evolving: a noticeable change or progression in its visible characteristics

Not all cancerous moles may have these traits, though, so it is necessary to be evaluated by a highly experienced board-certified dermatologist. If the doctor finds an area that he or she considers suspicious for skin cancer during your screening, a biopsy may be performed in order to obtain a definitive diagnosis. Particularly in the case of melanoma, a diagnosis and immediate treatment are vital for cancerous skin lesions. 

How often do I need a dermatology scan for skin cancer? 

Annual or bi-annual skin screenings are recommended to give patients the best possible chance of detecting any newly emerging skin lesions. The sooner that a skin cancer lesion is identified and diagnosed, the more treatment options a surgeon will have at his or her disposal. In addition, the efficacy of treatment is much higher at earlier stages of skin cancer. It is also important to be aware of your skin and do regular self-checks at home between your office screenings. Minimizing your sun exposure and wearing sunscreen, in addition to being evaluated regularly, are some of the most effective tools for preventing and/or catching skin cancer. 

If you have concerns about certain areas on your skin or simply want to establish a relationship with a board-certified dermatologist and begin regular skin cancer screenings, call one of the convenient Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute offices located in Fort Washington and Lansdale today to schedule your appointment with our exceptional team.