Full-Body Skin Cancer Screening
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Each day, 9,500 people receive a skin cancer diagnosis, and early detection of skin cancer is crucial for effective treatment. When caught early, melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has a 99% five-year survival rate. An annual full-body skin cancer screening is the key to early detection.
Regardless of whether you have light or dark skin, a full-body skin exam is a must. Learn more about the full-body skin exam procedure and when to schedule one.
What to Expect During a Full-Body Skin Cancer Screening?
Dermatologists are medical providers who are specially trained to detect skin cancer. During a full-body exam, Berman Skin Institute’s dermatologists will examine your entire body, from your scalp to the bottom of your feet. They are looking for spots that are suspicious or could be malignant. As they begin the exam, they will ask you if you have any areas of concern, such as a strangely shaped mole or a freckle that seems to be getting larger.
During the exam, you’ll wear just a patient gown and maybe your underwear. If possible, come to the exam without applying makeup, including nail polish. Remove anything that covers the skin, such as a watch or bandage.
When examining your skin, the provider may note any area that needs additional action, such as a biopsy or freezing. They will measure suspicious lesions with a ruler. Measuring the lesion allows them to note any changes in size at subsequent visits. During the exam, the provider may also take photographs of suspicious lesions so that they can compare them to the lesions’ appearance at later appointments.
Procedures That May Be Performed During a Full-Body Skin Cancer Exam
If the provider detects an actinic keratosis (precancerous lesion), they may freeze it with a special spray to keep it from developing into skin cancer. If the tentative diagnosis is a type of skin cancer, then a biopsy of the tissue will be performed, where a portion of the lesion is then sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination. It may take one to two weeks for the pathology results to be completed, after which the provider will inform you of the results and further treatment options, if any, are necessary.
There are several types of biopsies that BSI skin specialists may perform:
- Excisional biopsy: An excisional biopsy is the most commonly performed type, during which the provider removes an area of the lesion with a small scalpel.
- Shave biopsy: During a shave biopsy, the provider uses a razer-like tool to remove layers of a lesion.
- Punch biopsy: When performing a punch biopsy, the provider removes a section of deeper tissue with a circular tool.
The skin samples are then sent off to a lab.
Typically, if the pathology report comes back as positive for skin cancer, BSI specialists will perform a larger excision to remove all of the malignant tissue, or recommend a Mohs skin cancer procedure or even an EBX, electronic brachytherapy radiation therapy procedure.
Why Full-Body Skin Cancer Exams Are Necessary
Even if you don’t have a special risk factor for skin cancer, it is important to check your skin periodically for suspicious lesions.
A full-body skin check should be part of your regular preventive care routine for the following reasons:
- Dermatologists have the training and expertise to detect skin cancers at their earliest stages.
- Dermatologists can most often distinguish suspicious skin lesions from other skin conditions and, if unsure, can do further testing.
- Dermatologists can examine parts of your body that you cannot see or are less likely to examine, such as your back, scalp, groin or the soles of your feet.
- Dermatologists can detect precancerous regions and treat them before they become cancerous.
Why Is Skin Cancer So Prevalent?
Skin cancer is being diagnosed at an increasingly alarming rate for two primary reasons:
- Ozone layer depletion from the atmosphere caused by global warming results in increased exposure of humans to damaging ultraviolet radiation (UV rays)
- Popular use of tanning salons or sunlamps further exposes individuals to more UV rays
A “gorgeous tan” is not good for the skin. Tans do not indicate good health but rather demonstrate that skin cells have been harmed. Repeated exposure to excessive UV rays has a cumulative effect on the skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer development.
What Are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?
Although anyone can develop skin cancer, the following factors put you at a higher risk:
- Fair complexion
- Blue or green eyes
- Naturally blond or red hair
- Skin that burns, freckles or reddens easily
- Personal history of skin cancer
- Family history of skin cancer
- Exposure to sunlight during work or recreation
- History of sunburns, particularly early in life
- History of indoor tanning
- Having a large number of moles, especially of certain types
Smoking also puts you at a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, one variety of skin cancer.
Skin Type Classifications
The people most likely to develop skin cancer are those with the fairest skin. However, it must be remembered that even very dark-skinned people can develop, and even die from, skin cancer, so everyone requires skin check-ups.
Skin types are classified by numbers 1-6, according to tone and sensitivity to UV rays, number one being the most sensitive:
- Always burns, never tans
- Burns easily, tans minimally
- Burns moderately, can tan to light brown
- Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown
- Rarely burns, tans profusely to a dark shade of brown
- Deeply pigmented, never burns
Individuals with type 1 or 2 skin are most susceptible to damage by UV exposure.
Signs of Skin Cancer or Precancerous Lesions
Many patients come into our office because they have discovered spots they are afraid may be cancerous. Signs that signal potential skin cancers should always be evaluated by a professional. Different types of cancers and precancerous cells have varying discernible patterns as follows:
The precancerous patches of actinic keratosis are typically smaller than an inch in diameter, and present as rough, dry or scaly areas, flat or slightly raised. Sometimes they may have a hard surface, like a wart, and they may itch. Color varies from pink to red or brown. Usually, these patches appear on areas exposed to sunlight — face, ears, hands, neck, scalp and forearms. A related precancerous condition, known as actinic cheilitis, typically appears as scaly patches or ongoing roughness on the lips. Less commonly, actinic cheilitis can present as swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin or prominent lip lines.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Signs of basal cell carcinoma may include two or more of the following:
- Open sore that bleeds, crusts, or oozes for several weeks
- Shiny, translucent pearly white, pink or red bump
- Raised reddish patch that crusts or itches
- Pink growth with elevated border and crusted indented center
- Scar-like white, yellow or waxy area with poorly defined border
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma often announces itself by a crusty surface that may, left alone, begin bleeding. It may appear as:
- A wart-like growth with a rough texture
- A scaly, persistent, red patch with irregular borders
- An open sore that persists for weeks
- A raised growth with a rough surface and a central depression
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because of its ability to metastasize rapidly. This is why detecting melanomas at their earliest stage is extremely important. The alphabet of melanoma detection is important to commit to memory:
- A is for asymmetrical
- B is for a border that is irregular or jagged
- C is for uneven color
- D is for diameter (larger than a pea)
- E is for evolving (changing over days or weeks)
Although all types of skin cancers or precancers mentioned should be examined and treated by a skilled dermatologist or skin care specialist, they are listed here in order from the least to most serious. Even so, since skin cancers are often difficult to distinguish from benign skin irregularities and one another, it is crucial to have a trained and experienced provider examine and evaluate your skin as part of your normal health routine.
Full-Body Skin Exam Cost
The cost of a full-body skin exam depends on your insurance coverage and whether you have a co-pay or deductible. While you may have to pay something for your exam, the cost is often worth the peace of mind you receive.
Schedule Your Full-Body Skin Exam Today
BSI’s offices are designed to treat all types of health-related and cosmetic skin problems, from acne and rosacea to enlarged pores and wrinkles. Nevertheless, one of the most important concerns that BSI skin care specialists have is protecting your skin from skin cancer. We recommend a skin cancer screening at least annually or more frequently if you are at especially high risk or already have a history of skin cancer.
Book an appointment and select the time and day which is most convenient for you.