What You Need To Know
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
- More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
- Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
- When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
Theres more than meets the eye when it comes to skin cancer, so make sure you know all the facts. You can #SharetheFacts on social media by downloading images from our Skin Cancer Awareness Toolkit. For the latest news, visit our Press Room.
You Can Find Skin Cancer On Your Body
The best way to find skin cancer is to examine yourself. When checking, you want to look at the spots on your skin. And you want to check everywhere from your scalp to the spaces between your toes and the bottoms of your feet.
If possible, having a partner can be helpful. Your partner can examine hard-to-see areas like your scalp and back.
Getting in the habit of checking your skin will help you notice changes. Checking monthly can be beneficial. If you have had skin cancer, your dermatologist can tell you how often you should check your skin.
People of all ages get skin cancer
Checking your skin can help you find skin cancer early when its highly treatable.
How Do You Spot A Skin Cancer
Skin cancers dont all look the same, but there are signs to look out for, including:
- a spot that looks and feels different from other spots on your skin
- a spot that has changed size, shape, colour or texture
- a sore that doesnt heal within a few weeks
- a sore that is itchy or bleeds.
There is no set guideline on how often to check for skin cancer, but checking your skin regularly will help you notice any new or changing spots. If you have previously had a skin cancer or are at greater risk of developing skin cancer, ask your doctor how often you should check your skin.
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How Often Should You Get A Skin Cancer Exam
Experts disagree on this question. Some medical groups say you should only get a screening if you have suspicious moles or you have a high chance of getting melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
Others recommend a yearly screening for people who are at high risk for skin cancer. A few things make you more likely to get it:
- Blond or red hair, light eye color, and skin that freckles or sunburns easily
- People in your family have had melanoma
- Youve had unusual moles in the past
- Youve had sunburns before, especially any that blistered
- Youve used tanning beds
- You have more than 50 moles or any that look irregular
Our Skin Cancer Screening Guidelines
Our doctors do not recommend routine skin cancer screening. We do recommend lifelong dermatologic surveillance for patients with a personal history of melanoma. In addition, we recommend that individuals identified during routine care who meet any of the following criteria be considered for skin cancer risk assessment by a dermatologist:
- A family history of melanoma in two or more blood relatives
- The presence of multiple atypical moles
- The presence of numerous actinic keratoses
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Detect Skin Cancer: How To Perform A Skin Self
How to check your skin for skin cancer
Follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists to increase your chances of spotting skin cancer early, when its most treatable.
If you notice any new spots on your skin, spots that are different from others, or spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.
You can detect skin cancer early by following dermatologists tips for checking your skin. Download the AAD’s body mole map to document your self-examination, or the How to SPOT Skin Cancer infographic and know what to look for when checking your spots.
If you notice a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches or bleeds, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
See A Suspicious Spot See A Dermatologist
If you find a spot on your skin that could be skin cancer, its time to see a dermatologist. Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Often a dermatologist can treat an early skin cancer by removing the cancer and a bit of normal-looking skin.
Given time to grow, treatment for skin cancer becomes more difficult.
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How To Spot Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early, when its small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.
Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.
Use the ABCDE rule to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer:
AsymmetryOne part of a mole or birthmark doesnt match the other.
BorderThe edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
ColorThe color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
DiameterThe spot is larger than ¼ inch across about the size of a pencil eraser although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
EvolvingThe mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are more common than melanomas, but they are usually very treatable.
Both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers, usually grow on parts of the body that get the most sun, such as the face, head, and neck. But they can show up anywhere.
Basal cell carcinomas: what to look for:
Squamous cell carcinomas: what to look for:
How Often Should You Get A Skin Check
Regularly monitoring your skin means you’re more likely to find skin cancers at the earliest stage when they can be successfully treated. Early detection of melanoma gives you a 99 per cent likelihood of being cured, while allowing a melanoma to grow unnoticed reduces your chances of survival to just 50 per cent.
As most skin cancers grow silently without symptoms, regular checks are vital for all people living in Australia. So how frequently should we visit our doctor for a “regular” skin cancer check?
It is recommended that all adults check their own skin every three months. It’s important to completely examine your skin from the top of your scalp to the soles of your feet. You will need the help of a partner or friend to check areas you can’t see, like the back of your ears. Learn how to perform a self-examination here.
In addition to self-checks, you should also see a skin cancer doctor for a full-body skin examination at least once a year.
If you are at high-risk of skin cancer, your doctor will request that you have more frequent checks. This might be every three or six months, depending on your risk factors. You are at high risk of developing skin cancer if you have a personal or family history of the disease, have fair skin or light-coloured hair, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have been frequently sunburnt or tanned. Take this quick quiz to find out your skin cancer risk.
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Understanding Your Risk Factors
In terms of skin cancer, the population at the highest risk is anyone with fair skin, often called Skin Type 1 and Skin Type 2 . These people tend to have a hard time tanning and burn easily, and are Caucasian with blue eyes, light hair, and freckles. No matter what, they should get annual skin checks.
And for the rest of the population? Skin cancer risk is based on a slew of other risk factors, the biggest of which is a history of skin cancer yourself. Other risk factors: a history of severe sunburn, a history of using tanning beds, and a sibling or parent who has a history of skin cancer. Research also suggests that having more than 11 moles on one arm could put you at an increased risk for skin cancer.
If someone has a history of skin cancer or has a first-degree relative with a history of skin cancer, they should be coming for screenings every six to 12 months.
In fact, a history of sunburns and tanning beds puts you at a higher risk of skin cancer than someone who simply has fair skin and these people should also see their doctor once or twice a year.
Then, consider factors like your job or your general health. Studies show that pilots have more instances of skin cancer than the rest of the population. And jobs that keep you outdoors can increase risk too, thanks to increased exposure to harmful UV rays.
Am I At Risk Of Skin Cancer
Everyone is at some risk of developing skin cancer. Your risk increases as you grow older. Most skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to the suns ultraviolet radiation.
Your risk of skin cancer increases if you:
- have someone in your family who has had skin cancer
- have had bad sunburn before
- have fair skin
- have many moles on your skin
- spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection or work outdoors
- have used solariums or sun lamps
- have a compromised immune system or are taking immunosuppression medication
You can also use this online calculator to work out your likely risk of melanoma.
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Permission To Use This Summary
PDQ is a registered trademark. The content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text. It cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless the whole summary is shown and it is updated regularly. However, a user would be allowed to write a sentence such as NCIs PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks in the following way: .
The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Screening and Prevention Editorial Board. PDQ Skin Cancer Screening. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated < MM/DD/YYYY> . Available at: . Accessed < MM/DD/YYYY> .
Images in this summary are used with permission of the author, artist, and/or publisher for use in the PDQ summaries only. If you want to use an image from a PDQ summary and you are not using the whole summary, you must get permission from the owner. It cannot be given by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the images in this summary, along with many other images related to cancer can be found in Visuals Online. Visuals Online is a collection of more than 3,000 scientific images.
Who Is At Higher Risk For Skin Cancer
All Australians are at risk of skin cancer due to the high levels of UV radiation we experience. However, some Australians have a higher risk, including people who have:
- had a previous skin cancer, including melanoma
- a family history of skin cancer
- fair or freckled skin, especially those with skin that burns easily
- red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes
- lots of moles on their body
- worked or currently work outdoors
- had short, intense periods of exposure to UV radiation
- actively tanned or used solariums
- a weakened immune system
Currently, there is no set guideline for how often you should get your skin checked. Cancer Council recommends that you regularly monitor your own skin and visit a doctor if you notice any changed or new suspicious spot. A doctor can refer you on to a specialist if required.
People at higher risk of skin cancer should discuss a plan of how often they should check their skin with their doctor. A full skin examination, supported with photography and dermoscopy, may be necessary every six months.
Cancer Council does not operate or recommend any specific skin cancer clinics or doctors. We recommend that you visit your doctor who can refer you to a specialist, like a dermatologist, if required.
Getting to know your skin and noticing any changes will help you find skin cancer early.
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How Often Should You Check
Weve discussed how to check your skin but how often should you do a self-exam?
It would be wise to give yourself a thorough once-over on a monthly basis. And, in the absence of any unusual changes in your skin, you should see your dermatologist once a year.
Of course, if you notice any changes before then or have a higher risk for skin cancer, you should go more often.
To schedule your next skin exam, contact us today or call 872-3015.
What Happens During A Skin Cancer Screening
Skin cancer screenings may be done by yourself, your primary care provider, or a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the skin.
If you are screening yourself, you will need to do a head-to-toe exam of your skin. The exam should be done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You’ll also need a hand mirror to check areas that are hard to see. The exam should include the following steps:
- Stand in front of the mirror and look at your face, neck, and stomach.
- Women should look under their breasts.
- Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
- Look at the front and back of your forearms.
- Look at your hands, including between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Look at the front, back, and sides of your legs.
- Sit down and examine your feet, checking the soles and the spaces between the toes. Also check the nail beds of each toe.
- Check your back, buttocks, and genitals with the hand mirror.
- Part your hair and examine your scalp. Use a comb along with a hand mirror to help you see better. It may also help to use a blow dryer to move your hair as you look.
If you are getting screened by a dermatologist or other health care provider, it may include the follow steps:
The exam should take 10-15 minutes.
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What Should You Do If You Find A Suspicious Spot
If you find a suspicious spot on your skin, ask your GP for a skin check. Your family doctor knows you, your medical history, your family history and is your first point of call.
There are only three possible diagnoses your doctor can make for you skin lesion: clearly malignant, clearly benign and too close to call.
If your doctor is 100% sure the lesion is a skin cancer, they will arrange for it to be removed. Each GP knows the limits of their surgical skill and will refer you on to a dermatologist as necessary. If youre particularly concerned about scarring, you can request a referral to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
If your doctor is 100% certain the lesion is benign, no treatment is required and you will be reassured. Your doctor will examine any other skin lesions and provide you with advice about sun protection and early diagnosis of skin cancer.
If after examining your skin lesion, your doctor is only 99% sure that the lesion is benign, then a definitive diagnosis is required. Options include diagnostic biopsy, excision biopsy or referral to a dermatologist.
Access to specialists varies and patients may have to wait weeks or months for a definitive diagnosis for a suspicious lesion. So GPs often excise lesions they feel are low risk.
Consequently, the number of benign lesions needed to be excised for every skin cancer removed is approximately 20 for melanoma and three for non-melanoma skin cancers.
Doctor Visits And Tests
Your schedule for follow-up visits will depend on the type of skin cancer you had and on other factors. Different doctors may recommend different schedules.
- For people who’ve had basal cell cancers, visits are often recommended about every 6 to 12 months.
- For people who’ve had squamous cell cancers, visits are usually more frequent, often every 3 to 6 months for the first few years, followed by longer times between visits.
During your follow-up visits, your doctor will ask about symptoms and examine you for signs of skin cancer. For higher risk cancers, such as squamous cell cancers that had reached the lymph nodes, the doctor might also order imaging tests such as CT scans.
Follow-up is also needed to check for possible side effects of certain treatments. This is a good time for you to ask your health care team any questions and to discuss any concerns you might have. Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might last for a few weeks or months, but others can be permanent. Tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them.
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