The Importance of Regular Skin Checks for Skin Cancer: Guidelines and Recommendations
Regular skin checks by a dermatologist are crucial for the early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer globally, but when detected early, it is highly curable. The frequency of skin checks depends on individual risk factors. In this article, we will discuss the guidelines and recommendations for how often you should have your skin checked for skin cancer by a dermatologist.
The general recommendation is for adults to undergo a full-body skin examination annually by a dermatologist. This allows for a comprehensive assessment of the skin, including areas that may be difficult to examine on your own, such as the scalp, back, and genitals. Regular screenings provide an opportunity for early detection and treatment of skin cancer.
Certain individuals have a higher risk of developing skin cancer and may require more frequent screenings. Your dermatologist may recommend more regular skin checks if you have any of the following risk factors:
History of Skin Cancer: If you have a personal history of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), or melanoma, you are at an increased risk for developing additional skin cancers. In such cases, your dermatologist may recommend more frequent screenings to monitor for any new or recurrent lesions.
Family History: Individuals with a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, have an elevated risk. If a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, has had melanoma, more frequent screenings may be advised.
Sun Exposure: Prolonged and excessive sun exposure, particularly episodes of severe sunburn, significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. If you have a history of frequent sunburns or occupational sun exposure, your dermatologist may recommend more frequent screenings.
Fair Complexion and Moles: Individuals with fair skin, light hair, and light eyes are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Additionally, having a large number of moles (more than 50) or atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) increases the risk of developing melanoma. If you fall into these categories, your dermatologist may suggest more regular skin checks to monitor for any changes or new lesions.
Tanning bed use: Those that have used tanning beds have a much higher risk of cancer. One study observing 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30 found that 61 of them (97 percent) had used tanning beds. Even just one visit to a tanning bed can increase your risk of skin cancer. According to a systematic review of research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, using a tanning bed just ONCE before age 35 is associated with a 75 percent increase in risk for melanoma.
In addition to professional screenings, performing regular self-examinations can help detect any new or changing spots on your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-exams for early detection. During a self-exam, carefully inspect your entire body, including hard-to-see areas like the scalp, between the toes, and under the nails. Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and Evolution or change over time. If you notice any suspicious changes or growths, promptly schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
Certain circumstances may necessitate more frequent skin checks. These include:
- Organ Transplant Recipients: Individuals who have undergone organ transplantation and are taking immunosuppressive medications have a higher risk of developing skin cancer. They should have regular and comprehensive skin examinations due to their increased susceptibility.
- Personalized Recommendations: It is important to discuss your individual risk factors and concerns with your dermatologist. Based on your specific situation, they can provide personalized recommendations for the frequency of skin checks.
Regular skin checks by a dermatologist are essential for the early detection and treatment of skin cancer. While the general recommendation is for adults to undergo a full-body skin examination annually, individual risk factors may necessitate more frequent screenings. High-risk individuals with a history of skin cancer, family history, excessive sun exposure, fair complexion, history of tanning bed use, or numerous moles may require additional monitoring. Additionally, practicing monthly self-examinations enables you to actively monitor your skin for any changes or suspicious lesions. By adhering to these guidelines and seeking professional advice when needed, you can take an active role in the prevention and early detection of skin cancer.
- Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Skin Cancer: Overview. Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/
- Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Skin Cancer Self-Exams. Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/early-detection/self-exams/
- American Academy of Dermatology. (2018). Skin Cancer Self-Exams. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/prevent/skin-cancer-self-exams