Ten Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Skin Cancer

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

As this is Skin Cancer Prevention Month we are giving you many ways that you can detect and prevent skin cancer. For example, in previous weeks we talked about ways to check your skin for skin cancer and we also told you about three things you should stop doing now to prevent skin cancer.

This week we are going to discuss the questions you need to ask your doctor about skin cancer.

The most important thing you need to know about skin cancer is that it is both preventable and treatable. If caught early, even potentially deadly melanomas are curable. The Cleveland Clinic Disease Management Project cites a statistic that: ""if melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads, the 5-year survival rate is 99%." So this is excellent news but the trick is to be able to detect it in time before it becomes more serious. Part of this prevention and detection process is to have a good working relationship with your doctor or dermatologist.

Here are ten questions you will want to ask your medical professional about skin cancer:** 1. Do I have any medical conditions which cause me to be more photosensitive (more sensitive to the sun's UV rays which can increase the risk for skin cancer)?** There are some conditions which make one more photosensitive such as Lupus or if you are receiving chemotherapy for cancer. There are many more examples so you want to ask your doctor if you are at risk for being more photosensitive due to a medical condition.

  1. Am I taking any medications which can cause photosensitivity? In my article, "Ten Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer" I talk about how certain medications and/or supplements can increase our sensitivity to the sun causing us to burn faster and incur sun damage. Some of these medications and supplements may include things like St. John's Wort, Tetracyclines, as well as some topical treatments for some types of skin cancer including Efudex and Carac. So you want to ask your doctor about your medications as well as what precautions you should take if some of your medications do cause photosensitivity.

3. What risk factors do I have for getting skin cancer? Some people are more at risk for skin cancer
due to things like the fairness of their complexion, having many freckles or moles, or being prone to burning easily in the sun. The National Cancer Institute has a quiz you can take to understand the risk factors associated with skin cancer.

4. Am I doing anything which puts me more at risk for developing skin cancer (such as smoking, using tanning beds, or not using sunscreen when I go out into the sun)? I think you already know the answer to these questions but sometimes it is best to hear them directly from your own doctor. Let your doctor provide you with information about why these activities may be harmful to your overall health and why they may put you more at risk for skin cancer.

5. How do I get my Vitamin D without sun exposure? There is a lot of talk about Vitamin D these days and how we are not getting an adequate amount. One way to get Vitamin D is through sun exposure but most dermatologists and skin cancer experts are advising to get it through diet and supplementation. First check with your doctor to see if you are Vitamin D deficient and then ask your doctor about adding a supplement or changing your diet to get what you need. You can also read my experience with Vitamin D deficiency in my post, "Confused about Vitamin D and Sun Exposure? A Patient's Dilemma."

6. How do I check my skin for skin cancers? What do I look for? Your doctor will be able to show you how to check your own skin for skin cancers and also give you information about the types of moles or lesions which need further examination. To supplement the information and guidance from your doctor, Health Central provides articles about how to do a self skin exam at home and also what to look for in detecting potentially dangerous moles.

7. How can I decrease my risk for getting skin cancer? There are many ways to minimize your risk for developing skin cancer and your doctor or dermatologist will be glad to share these preventive measures with you. You can also read more about skin cancer prevention here on Health Central with information such as, "Ten Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer."

8. If one of my family members has had melanoma, what are my chances of developing melanoma as well? Some skin cancers have a genetic basis including melanoma. The American Society of Clinical Oncology provides information about the genetics of skin cancer that you may also want to read.

9. If I find a suspicious mole or lesion what do I do? In the event that you do find a mole or growth which is of concern, you will want to know what to do next. Your doctor is the best person to advise you on both diagnosis and treatment.

10. Can you refer me to a good dermatologist?
While your general practitioner is capable of doing a skin exam, it may be preferable to see a dermatologist. In my article, "How a Visit to a Dermatologist Can Save Your Life" I point out reasons why an annual skin exam with a dermatologist is essential for both preventing and detecting skin cancers.

There is much that you can do to prevent skin cancer and a large part of your prevention efforts is to seek the guidance of your doctor and/or dermatologist. Remember that we can provide support and information but we absolutely cannot replace your doctor. I encourage all of you to schedule an annual skin exam with a certified dermatologist and bring your list of questions.

If you have any questions you feel we should add to this list, please don't hesitate to tell us here on Skin Cancer Connection.
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Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."