Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chung will discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Reader's Question: I want to get a skin cancer screening this spring just to make sure everything's OK. Is there an easy way to find one that's free in my area?
Sue's Response: May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. At this point, there's nothing we can do about the sunburns we suffered as a child or the times we walked around in the burning sun without a drop of sunblock on our skin. However, we can maintain vigilance about applying sunscreen now and check our skin regularly for any abnormalities.
In addition, we can take advantage of one of the many free skin cancer screenings available throughout this month at various locations.
When checking your skin on your own, pay attention to sores that either don't heal or heal but then return in the same spot. These can be signs of basal or squamous cell carcinomas.
In terms of melanoma, Dr. Kishwer Nehal, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, advises that you make sure to look for the ABCDs:
Asymmetry—one half of the mole looks different than the other
Border irregularity—the edges of the mole are blurry and indistinct
Color discrepancy—the mole is not uniform in color or changes in color
Diameter—a mole greater than 1/4 of an inch in diameter
If you do notice any of these symptoms or have a large number of moles and want a doctor to take a look at them, here are some pertinent facts to know about screenings and what to expect from them.
Each year, nearly 2,000 dermatologists in the U.S. offer free skin cancer screenings, says John A. Carucci, an assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell University. The screening usually consists of a dermatologist visually inspecting your skin using a light and/or a magnifying glass. The screening process takes approximately 10 minutes.
Be sure to call ahead and ask if the screening allows walk-in patients or if it requires scheduling an appointment in advance. If the screening is in a private area, such a doctor's office, you may request a full-body screening. In more public locations with limited privacy, only the exposed areas of the body (such as the arms, face, and legs) will be inspected.
If you attend a screening affiliated with the American Academy of Dermatology's (AAD) National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening Program, your registration form will record your information and results with both the AAD and the medical personnel who host the screening.
You can use this form to obtain follow-up treatment if the dermatologist finds a suspicious lesion. In the case that a suspicious lesion is found, you should follow up with your dermatologist or family physician. When discovered and treated early, patients with skin cancer have a high cure rate.