Visiting your dermatologist every year may be an important step to staying skin cancer-free. So, how do you know if you should schedule that annual appointment?
The answer depends on how likely you are to get skin cancer. Do you fall into one of these groups? Then, it’s time for a skin check-up.
1. Red hair and freckles. If you’ve got red or blond hair, fair skin, freckles and blue or light-colored eyes, you‘re more likely to get skin cancer. But, that doesn’t mean darker-skinned people don’t develop skin cancer too.
2. More than 50 moles. If you’ve got a lot of moles, you need regular skin checks. Doing this will help your doctor stay on top of unusual mole changes.
3. Family history of melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious of all skin cancers. That’s because it tends to spread to other parts of the body. Most melanomas pop up around or on existing moles. Talk to your doctor about your risks if you have an immediate family member (parent, sibling, daughter or son) who’s had melanoma.
4. Excessive sun exposure. Unfortunately, exposing your skin to UVA and UVB rays for long periods of time will up your risks. That’s true even if you’re really good about applying sunscreen.
5. Frequent trips to the tanning salon. Visiting a tanning salon may seem like a safer option to outdoor tanning – but that’s not true! The World Health Organization recently classified tanning beds in its highest cancer risk category — “carcinogenic to humans.”
And, if you’re under 30, weekly trips to the tanning bed increase your skin cancer risks by 75%.
6. One or more blistering sunburn(s). Have you ever had a sunburn that was so bad you broke out in water blisters? If this is true for you, make it a point to see your dermatologist every year.
7. Personal history of basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Most skin cancers are either basal cell or squamous cell cancer. These cancers are slow-growing and rarely ever spread to other parts of the body.
But, if you’ve had one, you’re more likely to have another. So, it’s best to be careful and get your skin checked regularly.
8. Personal history of actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis is like a precancer on the skin. It’s mostly caused by sun exposure. Precancer means abnormal growths that are more likely to become cancer. If untreated, about 1% of actinic keratoses turn into cancer.
This growth is most common in people with fair skin. It looks like a rough, red or brown, scaly patch on the skin. And, it’s usually easier to feel than see.
9. Personal history of dysplastic nevi (or strange moles). Do you have several unusual looking moles? And when I say unusual, I mean moles that are not perfectly circular in shape, and are larger than the average mole (think bigger than the head of a pencil).
These strange moles are usually a blend of colors, ranging from pink to dark brown. They’re also flat, but parts of the mole may be raised above the skin surface.
Have I spotted your strange looking mole? If so, get it checked because doctors believe dysplastic nevi are more likely to become melanoma.
Keep your eye on your skin
Even if you don’t fall into one of these groups, you should still monitor your skin for changes. Seek prompt medical attention if you notice any unusual changes that don’t go away after two weeks.
Carol R. Drucker is a dermatologist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
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