To routinely screen for skin cancer or not to screen? That hot-button question still doesn’t have a solid answer.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found insufficient evidence to recommend annual skin cancer screenings for all adults. Currently, the Task Force is reviewing the most recent research findings and may (or may not) change this recommendation. MRA has funded research looking at the benefits and harms of population-based skin checks, and the results of this research will mature over the next year.
In the meantime, certain high-risk people should discuss with their healthcare provider about annual skin exams with a dermatologist or other trained professional.
Am I High Risk for Skin Cancer?
You’re considered high risk if you meet one or more of these criteria:
- You have a family history of skin cancer.
- You have a personal history (prior diagnosis) of skin cancer.
- You have a lot of moles or freckles.
- You have a fair complexion and/or have red or blonde hair.
- History of sunburns and/or use of tanning beds.
Skin Cancer Screening: What to Expect
Most skin checks begin with a doctor (usually a dermatologist) visually giving your skin a once-over to look for suspicious-looking moles, freckles, lesions or skin changes. Your doctor may use a dermatoscope during this process. This magnifying device uses a special light source to illuminate features below the skin’s surface.
Screening with Total Body Photography
Total body photography (TBP) systems can aid melanoma screening for certain high-risk individuals, particularly those with many moles.
There are several advantages to this technology:
- TBP can help physicians keep track of many suspicious lesions on an individual. Should your doctor detect a possible skin change at a later appointment, he or she can compare it to baseline images.
- Doctors avoid performing unnecessary biopsies if the comparison indicates that the suspicious area really hasn’t changed.
If you’re at high risk for melanoma, check with your dermatologist to see if TBP is available. You also should check with you health insurance provider since the service may not be covered.
MRA funded a research award to develop a three-dimensional TBP system. Using more than 40 cameras, the system photographs the entire surface of the skin and creates a digital model in less time than current TBP systems. It is currently only available at one skin cancer clinic in the U.S.
Learn more about early detection and prevention: Educate yourself about melanoma.
You can read the full recap in our Scientific Retreat Report.