Skin Cancer Screening and Prevention

Why screen for skin cancer?

Screening is the process of looking for cancer before any symptoms appear. Screening can allow for early detection of skin cancer. When cancers are found early, before they have spread to other parts of the body, they are often easier to treat and have better outcomes.

Surprisingly, Vermont has the second highest rate of skin cancer occurrence in the Unites States and New Hampshire is in the top five. It’s important even for residents of states that are not known for lots of sunshine to be aware of changes in their skin and consider screening.

Screening for skin cancer involves tests by dermatologists that look for malignant (cancerous) cells in the tissues of the skin. Your dermatologist will examine your skin for moles, birthmarks and other pigmented areas that may be abnormal in color, shape, size or texture. If you have an area of concern, a tissue sample from the area will be looked at by one or more pathologists under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.

New screening tests are currently being studied in clinical trials. A machine that identifies sun-damaged skin is available each year at The Prouty, Dartmouth Cancer Center’s largest annual fundraiser held in July.

Who should have skin cancer screening?

If you have moles, birthmarks, and other pigmented areas on your skin that have changed in appearance, size, or texture, you should have them looked at by your doctor. Regular screening is also important for anyone with a history of skin cancer.

More information about skin cancer screening (National Cancer Institute)

Healthy practices to lower the risk of skin cancer

Complete risk factors for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers are not the same; however, the risk for both types of skin cancer increases with excessive exposure to UV rays, such as sunlight or tanning beds. Using sunscreen and protective clothing may help decrease the amount of UV radiation exposure to the skin. Skin experts suggest the following practices:

  • Use sunscreen that protects against UV radiation.
  • Do not stay out in the sun for long periods of time, especially when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, sun hats and sunglasses when outdoors. New ways to prevent skin cancer are being studied in clinical trials.

More information about skin cancer prevention (National Cancer Institute)