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Skin Cancer Screenings More Important Than Ever
Posted: May 26, 2010
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Who is at risk? It's misleading to think that only a certain demographic should be screened. Exams are a necessary routine no matter your age or your ethnicity. According to Hollenberg, it's a myth that melanoma primarily affects older people: It is the No. 1 cancer in adults aged 25–29.
Do I need a doctor's opinion? A dermatologist or regular provider should perform a clinical skin exam at least once a year (more often if you have a history of skin cancer). Through the American Academy of Dermatology's National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening program, volunteer doctors perform free skin cancer screenings.
Multiple studies have shown that physicians are more likely to detect melanomas at a thinner stage compared with nonphysicians. According to recent research, 81% percent of physician-detected melanomas were clinically thin compared with 62% percent of melanomas detected by laypersons. Research published in the August 2009 issue of Archives of Dermatology showed that most melanomas detected in a dermatology office were found as a result of doctor-initiated exams instead of a specific patient complaint. Doctors can educate patients about the signs and symptoms of melanoma and train them in how to perform a thorough self-examination with the aid of informational brochures, handheld mirrors, combs and hair dryers.
What to look for? The American Academy of Dermatology has revised the "ABCDs of Melanoma Detection" by adding an "E" for evolving. A mole or skin lesion that is evolving, or changing in size, shape or color should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist. This is in addition to other characteristics of moles for which individuals should check their skin: Asymmetry (one half unlike the other half), Border (irregular, scalloped or poorly defined), Color (varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue), and Diameter (the size of a pencil eraser or larger). A mole with any of these characteristics, or one that is an "ugly duckling", meaning it looks different from the rest, should be brought to a dermatologist's attention.
What happens next? If an area on the skin looks abnormal, a doctor may recommend a biopsy."A biopsy is the only certain way of identifying skin cancer and determining the specific type of cancer," says Hollenberg. In a biopsy, the doctor removes suspicious cells or tissues with a local excision. A dermatopathologist then examines the growth under a microscope to check if it is benign or malignant.