Skin cancer screening: 6 things your dermatologist wants you to know
At increased risk for skin cancer? You may need regular skin cancer screening exams. These screening exams help find skin cancer early, when the chances of successful treatment are greatest.
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.”