Skin cancer, which is an abnormal growth of skin cells, often can be detected in the early stages through skin cancer screenings. It usually is important for a person to be aware of the warning signs of skin cancer. By receiving a regular skin cancer screening and performing self exams, a person may be able to detect changes in the skin and seek treatment before the problem spreads. Most skin cancers successfully can be treated if caught early enough.
The abnormal growth of skin cells usually is caused by exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Skin cancer also can occur on areas of the skin that are not directly exposed to sunlight. There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamos cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of cancer. It occurs in the cells that produce melanin, the chemical that causes pigment in the skin.
Moles, freckles, and discolorations on the skin often are the first signs of skin cancer. Self exams can help a person spot and remember the moles, freckles, and marks that normally are on her skin. Differences in the color, size, or shape of moles and freckles can be indications of skin cancer and usually should be evaluated by a doctor. Checking the backs, fronts, and sides of arms and legs for any new marks or changes in existing marks can be important.
The groin, scalp, fingernails, toenails, and spaces between the fingers and toes usually should be checked, as well. A hand-held mirror can be used to inspect areas that are hard to see. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals conduct self exams on a monthly basis. An annual skin cancer screening for people over 40 and those with a high risk of developing skin cancer also is recommended by the ACS. People with a history of skin cancer or who have certain risk factors may undergo more frequent screenings.
During a skin cancer screening, a qualified health care professional – typically a physician or nurse specialist – will inspect the skin, head-to-toe, for any potential warning sings. She may ask questions about any questionable freckles or moles. This is where increased awareness of the marks on the body and any noted changes can help the process. Because heredity also may increase the risk of developing skin cancer, it can be important to tell the doctor during a skin cancer screening if anyone within the immediate family of a patient has been diagnosed with skin cancer.