Skin cancer, the most prevalent of all types of cancer, occurs most frequently in fair-skinned people, but everyone is at risk. Overexposure to the sun and tanning beds damage the skin and often lead to serious skin cancers. We’ve seen an increase in young melanoma patients in their mid-twenties, probably due to the ease of travel to sunny vacation places and the popularity of tanning beds.
Skin cancer falls into three categories: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cells, although the least serious and the most common, do need to be removed because they erode the skin and cause deformities. They look like shiny nodules and usually appear on sun-exposed areas like the neck, arms, legs, face, and back.
Squamous cell and melanoma need to be treated aggressively because they can spread to other areas of the body (a process known as metastasize). Squamous cell appear as dry, red, scaly patches on the ear, face, lip, or even inside the mouth.
Malignant melanoma, the most serious of all skin cancers, appears around moles or other dark areas in the skin. It can appear suddenly and spread rapidly, which is why early treatment is vital.
Full Body Examination
We begin treatment for skin cancers with a fully body skin examination. When patients come in for their full body analysis, we look at their skin from head to toe to find anything suspicious. Depending on your specific case, we might ask to see you again anywhere from every three months to once a year. If we suspect you might develop skin cancer later on in life, we’ll keep close watch on you to initiate treatment the moment you need it.
Why is a full body skin examination necessary?
Many skin cancers go unnoticed until they reach a point of fatality. We suggest an annual full body skin analysis so that we can eliminate cancer cells before they multiply. During the examination, you can ask us to check specific moles, and learn what to look for in the future.
What happens during the full body?
We’ll have you undress but you’ll be covered with a cloth gown. Once you’re ready, our providers will inspect your skin for suspicious areas or lesions. The exam usually takes 5-15 minutes, depending on the condition of your skin. If we find something with the potential of skin cancer, we have several treatment options, including medical treatment, surgery, plastic surgery, and oncologic surgeries, among others. Some skin cancers have to be treated surgically, but today, many creams and oral medications for basal cell carcinoma cancers have proven successful. Depending on the condition of your skin, our providers might decide to do a biopsy or complete an excision of the lesion the same day.
What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is a simple procedure; we first use a local anesthetic to relieve any discomfort. We then remove a small portion of your skin tissue and send it to the Pathologist, who examines it under a microscope. If we do find skin cancer, we’ll remove the growth completely.
How can you prepare for your full body examination?
We’re going to want to analyze as much of your skin as possible (that’s why we call it a full body exam!). Please keep your hair in a loose fitting style so that we can look at your scalp. We also ask you remove any nail polish before you come so we can look at your nail beds. We look between your toes and the soles of your feet.
If you have moles that you’re concerned about, point them out so we can see if they have the potential for skin cancer. If you have questions about tanning beds, sunscreen, or skin cancer, now is the time to ask! We’re happy to answer any questions and educate you what to look for down the road.
Each standard of care is always individualized. We consider each patient’s medical history, comorbidities (the presence of two chronic medical conditions in a patient), insurance coverage, the type and location of the tumor and how it has advanced. If you have any suspicion of skin cancer, address that concern immediately! Most skin cancers are curable if addressed in an early stage.