Skin cancer screening: 5 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 fives 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.