One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, so it is important to have routine skin checks for early detection and treatment. Although skin cancer can affect anyone, there are some well-known risk factors. Lighter skin tones, history of sunburns, cumulative sun exposure (whether naturally such as working outdoors or artificially as in the case of tanning beds), personal or family history of skin cancer, immunocompromised states, and exposure to certain chemicals can all increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
We recommend monthly self-skin checks and, if no history of skin cancer, at least yearly skin checks by a board-certified dermatologist. When doing self-skin checks, it is helpful to look at the “ABCDEs” of skin cancer- Asymmetry (one side looks different than the other), Border (irregular), Color (multiple shades), Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser), and Evolving (any changes in symptoms or appearance, especially if these changes are rapid). Another helpful tip is the “ugly duckling sign”- a spot that looks or acts differently from any other ones on your body should be examined by a board-certified dermatologist.
Fortunately, many skin cancers (including early melanomas!) are easily treatable with very high cure rates and minimal healing/ down-time. While some superficial non-melanoma skin cancers can be treated with topical chemotherapy, the majority of skin cancers are treated surgically with either electrodesiccation and curettage (scraping and burning the top part of the skin), or excision (a simple surgery in the office), or Mohs surgery. Mohs surgery is considered the gold standard for sensitive/ high-risk areas such as the face, hands, and genitals, as it removes only a thin layer of skin at a time and is examined under the microscope in the office for clearance of cancerous cells.