Skin cancer and melanoma prevention
Skin cancer screening is recommended only for adults at increased risk. That’s because they have a higher chance of getting the disease.
Being at increased risk doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get skin cancer. But, you may need to start regular screening exams. So if you do get skin cancer, your doctor finds it at its earliest stage. When found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.
Along with regular exams, practice awareness. This means you should be familiar with your skin. That way you’ll notice changes. Then, report them to your doctor without delay.
Promptly show your doctor any:
- Suspicious skin area
- Sore that doesn’t heal
- Change in a mole or freckle
Get a full-body skin cancer screening exam every year if you identify with one or more of the groups below:
- Red hair and freckles albinism
- More than 50 moles
- Family history of melanoma
- Genetic syndromes that make you sensitive to the sun
- Too much sun exposure
- Frequent trips to the tanning salon
- One or more blistering sunburn(s)
Personal pre-cancerous conditions
- Actinic keratosis
- Dysplastic nevi (unusual moles)
- Personal skin cancer history
- Basal and squamous cell cancer
- Radiation treatment
- Immuosuppressive treatment
- Other cancer treatments that increase risk
Still unsure if skin cancer screening is right for you? Print and share MD Anderson’s skin cancer screening chart with your doctor.
Exams for those who have had melanoma
If you’ve had melanoma (a type of skin cancer), you need a different plan to check for cancer recurrence.
Print and share MD Anderson’s melanoma survivorship chart with your doctor. Your doctor can use this chart to develop a more tailored screening plan for you.
The screening plans on this page apply to people expected to live for at least 10 years. They’re not for people who have a health condition that may make it hard to diagnose or treat skin cancer. Your doctor can help you decide if you should continue screening after age 75.
Here, Anisha Patel, M.D., shares six things she wants you to know before your skin screening exam.
You’ll be wearing a gown during the skin screening
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on your body, even places that don’t get sun exposure. During the screening, your dermatologist will conduct a head-to-toe examination, which will include your scalp, the bottom of your feet and even your genital areas. “A patient’s comfort is very important to us, but we think it’s better to endure a few moments of discomfort than to overlook a suspicious spot. It may just save your life,” Patel says.
Avoid wearing makeup and nail polish to your skin screening
Come to your skin screening without wearing makeup or nail polish. Because they cover up areas of your skin where cancer can occur, it’s best to avoid these products the day of your exam to ensure your dermatologist can do a thorough screening. “It’s fine to apply products after the screening, but plan to come to see me with clean, bare skin,” Patel says.
A machine isn’t involved in a skin screening
When walking into the examination room, some patients expect to see a machine, such as those for an MRI or CT scan, to conduct the screening. But that’s not the case. The entire screening is done with your dermatologist’s eyes or with the help of a lighted magnifying glass.
Don’t focus on cosmetic concerns
MD Anderson specializes in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, so our dermatology team focuses on skin cancers and skin cancer-related dermatologic issues. Our team and our facility aren’t equipped to address cosmetic procedures, so we suggest that you seek advice from a dermatologist who specializes in your area of concern.
If you’ve had previous skin cancer issues, bring your records
If you’ve had a skin screening in the past that resulted in a biopsy, bring your previous records to your appointment. “This will eliminate the guesswork in understanding your skin cancer risk level,” Patel says. “It may also help us reduce redundancy if you’ve had a similar procedure in the last several months. And in the case we find something suspicious, we can know what treatment you received in the past. Your past biopsy results will also help us determine the best treatment if something cancerous is found.”
The biopsy will happen the same day
If something suspicious is found during your skin screening, we’ll offer to biopsy it that day. A biopsy is the only way to find out if the area is in fact cancerous. We’ll locally numb the suspicious area of your skin and remove a small amount of tissue to send to a lab to be examined under a microscope. We’ll then cover the biopsied area with adhesive bandages and you’ll go on your way. The procedure takes only a few minutes and you should heal in just a few weeks.
We’ll know the results of your biopsy in about a week. “You shouldn’t spend the days after your skin screening worrying about biopsy results,” Patel says. “Most biopsies don’t result in a cancer diagnosis, and most of those that are skin cancer can be easily treated. But if we do find cancer, rest assured that we’ll start working with you right away to develop a care plan that will work for you.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 1-877-632-6789.