Skin Cancer Screenings Can Save Your Life


As a board-certified dermatologist, Boise’s Dr. Naomi Brooks knows skin—as well as what can harm it. When it comes to everything from premature signs of aging to health problems that can impact the entire body, nothing beats ultraviolet radiation for causing damage. Light from the sun contains UVA and UVB rays, both of which can damage the DNA found in skin cells, causing them to grow abnormally.

These growths may resemble moles, crusty sores, red bumps, or other lesions and spots, depending on the type of cancer, its stage, its location on the body, and other variables.

Given that there is such variation in skin cancer’s appearance, and that all skin cancers have a high cure rate if caught early enough, skin cancer screenings by a dermatologist could literally save your life.

Dr. Brooks recommends that everyone schedule a whole-body skin cancer screening — possibly once a year, in certain situations — as well as additional individual appointments as necessary, if warning signs develop. Knowing your own skin is actually an important aspect of any skin cancer screening, as you would know the best of anyone which moles or spots are new and which are growing or changing.

Any mole that could be considered an “ugly ducking”—in that it stands out and doesn’t look like all the rest—is cause for potential concern and should be examined. A good rule of thumb is to follow the ABCDE’s of warning signs:

• Asymmetrical, meaning the lesion isn’t circular, but appears lopsided or like a blob.

• Border, meaning the mole lacks clearly defined edges, instead bearing hazy or blurry transitions into the surrounding skin

• Color, meaning the spot is a mottled mix of hues instead of a uniform shade

• Diameter, meaning the mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, which is about 6 millimeters across

• Evolving, meaning the lesion is changing in size, shape, or color over time, which can be evidence of uncontrolled cancer cells dividing

Report any of these factors to the dermatologist during a skin cancer screening, so the doctor can give these suspicious spots a closer examination. If enough concern is warranted, a biopsy may be ordered, which will involve collecting cells from the area, then examining them for signs of cancer. Everything necessary for collection during this step can be handled in the office on the day of the screening, though the results can take up to a week.

During a skin cancer screening, the dermatologist will also look for precancerous lesions, which can potentially develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Known as actinic keratoses, these lesions can be treated with the goal of stopping them from developing further.

Confirmed squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma may be cut out, treated with a topical cream, or otherwise destroyed with modern techniques. Melanoma—a more deadly form of the disease, especially if left untreated—can also be addressed with a range of options, though the treatments may be more dramatic depending on its progression.

Certain demographics are more prone to skin cancer and should vigilantly schedule regular screenings. These groups include anyone with more than 50 moles on their body, men and women older then 50 years old (due to the cumulative effects of five decades of sun exposure), and patients with a history of childhood sunburns, melanoma in the family, or previous cases of skin cancer. Note that squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma most typically appear on parts of the body frequently exposed to ultraviolet radiation, such as the face and scalp, arms, legs, and back. Melanoma may also occur in these areas, but can also be found on the buttocks, in the groin area, and even between toes.

Regular skin cancer screenings are also excellent times to have questions answered and get advice from a skin expert. A board-certified dermatologist can make personalized skin-care recommendations, and can also advise on sunscreen, since prevention is a vital strategy in the fight against carcinomas and melanoma.

In the meantime, there are some skin protection measures you can take starting now, especially as warmer weather encourages more exposed skin: Apply sunscreen liberally 20 minutes before going outside and again every couple hours—though applications should be more frequent if sweat or water washes off a layer during typical summer activities. Staying in the shade is a good strategy, too, though you shouldn’t count on clouds to give you cover. Ultraviolet radiation gets to your skin even on the most overcast of days.

To learn more about the importance of skin cancer screenings, contact board-certified dermatologist Dr. Naomi Brooks at Boise Dermatology by calling 208.888.0660 or sending a message online.