What to Expect at Your Skin Cancer Screening

May 08, 2023
What to Expect at Your Skin Cancer Screening
Skin cancer is the most common cancer but also one of the most preventable and treatable. The key to early detection is having regular skin cancer screenings. Here’s what to expect at your appointment.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer throughout the US and worldwide. Nearly 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and two die of the disease every hour. One in five people in the US (20%) can expect to develop skin cancer by age 70. 

The statistics are alarming, but it doesn’t have to be this way — with early detection and proper treatment, the five-year survival rate for skin cancer is very high: 

The key to early detection? Get regular skin cancer screenings. Here, our seasoned team of board-certified skin cancer specialists at Florida Dermatology Associates discusses the importance of annual skin cancer screenings and explains what you can expect at your visit. 

Why do I need a skin cancer screening?

Given that skin cancer is common and affects people of all skin tones, we advise our adult patients to conduct regular skin self-exams. We also recommend yearly in-office skin cancer screenings for anyone with a higher-than-average risk.  

Factors that increase your chances of developing all types of skin cancer include: 

  • Fair or pale skin that burns or freckles easily
  • Blonde or red hair; light blue or green eyes 
  • Excessive use of tanning beds or sun exposure in your past
  • A history of blistering sunburns, especially in youth 
  • Skin cancer in your personal or family history 
  • Actinic keratosis history (patches of thick, scaly skin)
  • Radiation therapy; a weakened immune system

Your melanoma risk increases if you have atypical moles, large or many moles on your body (more than 50). 

Preparing for your skin cancer screening

Before your scheduled skin cancer screening, take a moment to note concerning moles or sections of skin, including any new spots, growths, or patches. Also, check areas that have changed in appearance, started to itch, or caused discomfort.

If you usually wear makeup or nail polish, leave it off or remove it for your appointment. Skin cancer can begin in the nail bed, so it’s important to leave your fingernails and toenails bare. Don’t apply moisturizer, lotion, or sunscreen until after your screening.    

What to expect at your appointment

Given that skin cancer is primarily caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from natural sunlight and/or tanning bed use, most skin cancer cases appear on more exposed areas of skin. However, it’s necessary to recognize that abnormal, malignant skin cells can develop anywhere on your body, including areas that never get exposed to UV light.

For this reason, skin cancer screenings are full-body exams that require you to remove your clothes and wear a gown. Once you’re comfortably situated on the exam table, we begin our visual skin inspection. 

With the aid of a special magnifying, illuminating device called a dermatoscope, our specialist meticulously checks every inch of skin — including your scalp, genitals, buttocks, between your toes, and the soles of your feet — looking for abnormalities in your moles, dark spots, growths, sores, or lesions. We also inspect your nail beds for dark spots or streaks that may indicate cancer. 

We apply a standard set of criteria — called the ABCDEs of atypical moles — to evaluate moles that appear irregular, which can be a sign of melanoma. These criteria include: 

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn’t mirror the other
  • Border: Uneven or poorly defined borders
  • Color: Has more than one tone or color 
  • Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser 
  • Evolution: Rapid changes in size, color, or shape

If we see something suspicious, we may perform a quick biopsy by removing a layer of skin for further examination under a high-powered microscope.       

If you don’t have many moles and have never been diagnosed with skin cancer, your exam may take 10-15 minutes. If you’ve had skin cancer or have a lot of moles, the exam may take a bit longer.

To schedule your next skin cancer screening, call your nearest Florida Dermatology Associates office in Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, or Titusville, Florida, today, or use our easy online booking feature to make an appointment