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Annual Skin Cancer Screenings: Why Are They Important, and When Should I Start Having Them?

Annual Skin Cancer Screenings: Why Are They Important, and When Should I Start Having Them?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting millions of Americans every year. In fact, on average, nearly 10,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and two people die of skin cancer every hour.

Those numbers are alarming, but there’s some good news: Skin cancer is also easily detectable, and skin cancer screening plays a vital role in catching the disease early, when treatment is simplest and most successful.

In Washington, DC, Todd E. Perkins, MD, and Edward H. Stolar, MD, offer skin cancer screening for patients at Metroderm DC: Medical, Laser, and Aesthetic Dermatology Center, using advanced detection techniques to spot cancer early. 

Here’s how often you need to be screened and what to expect at your appointment.

Skin cancer basics

Skin cancer develops when skin cells begin multiplying at an abnormally rapid rate, creating lesions or tumors. Some skin cancers are more aggressive than others, with melanoma being the most deadly (and rarest) form. 

UV exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancer, and in most cases, that means radiation from direct sun exposure. In fact, five or more sunburns doubles the risk of melanoma tumors. 

UV radiation changes your skin cells’ DNA. It’s these changes that spur the abnormal cell growth that eventually turns into cancerous tumors. While areas exposed to sunlight are most at risk for cancerous lesions, skin cancer can affect any area of your body — even parts never exposed to the sun.

Skin cancer screenings

Skin cancer screenings look for changes in your skin associated with skin cancer, including unusual lesions or growths or odd-looking moles and rough patches on your skin. 

During your exam, we examine your skin from head to toe. To make sure your skin is easily visible, remove nail polish before your visit, take off any makeup, and wear your hair down so we can examine your scalp.

If we encounter any unusual area that could be an early cancer growth or a precancerous growth, we examine it using a special lighted scope, and we may take a biopsy — a tiny tissue sample that can be examined under a microscope. 

Before removing the tiny sample of tissue, we inject a local anesthetic to numb the area, then apply a bandage over the area afterward to keep it clean.

Having your entire body examined probably sounds embarrassing to you, but remember: This screening is essential for identifying cancers in their earliest and most treatable stages. 

Our team performs hundreds of these exams a year, and our experience means we can ensure your exam will be quick but thorough.

When to begin screening

To date, there are no specific rules for when to begin skin exams, but experts agree that most adults should have screenings every year, especially if you have risk factors for skin cancer, like fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or lots of prior exposure to the sun. 

Even without these risk factors, it’s still a good idea to have a baseline exam, so we can determine the best screening schedule to keep you healthy. A baseline exam also helps us keep track of any unusual change in your skin over time, changes that could be early indicators of cancer.

Schedule your skin cancer screening

Annual skin cancer screenings play an essential role in preventing skin cancer and treating it in its earliest stages, before it has a chance to spread to other parts of your body. If you’re overdue for your skin cancer screening, call us at 202-659-2223 or book an appointment online today.

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