Every year in the United States, more new cases of skin cancer are discovered than the entire number of prostate, colon, breast and lung cancers. Despite awareness campaigns, seasonal reminders about harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and other initiatives, skin cancer rates continue to climb.
For a condition so widespread and serious, skin cancer is still referred to as a “silent killer” – but it doesn’t have to be. The key to skin cancer prevention – and survival – is a thorough screening. Before we look at how skin cancer screenings can help, let’s look at some more facts and figures, including a few that hit home for Arizona residents.
Skin Cancer in Arizona
The Urgent Care Extra service area includes the state of Arizona, which was part of a state-based study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC discovered some alarming statistics about skin cancer in the Grand Canyon State. Consider the following facts:
- Approximately 200 Arizonans die every year from melanoma.
- Nearly 1,500 people annually are diagnosed with melanoma in Arizona.
- Among state residents, men have a 75% higher skin cancer diagnosis rate than women.
- Coconino County has experienced the highest new rates of melanoma in the state, about 50% higher than the rest of Arizona.
- Gila County’s death rate from melanoma is approximately 70% higher than the United States average – one of the highest in the entire country.
Beyond Arizona’s borders, the cost of skin cancer treatments accounts for about $2 billion every year in the United States. Plus, melanoma is the second most common form of skin cancer among young adults. Skin cancer’s prevalence is summarized by this staggering statistic: approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.
Skin Cancer Screenings: Early Detection is Critical
Early detection is the most important factor with skin cancer. Skin cancer can metastasize to other areas in the body quickly, so getting an accurate diagnosis is absolutely critical. Regardless of your race or ethnic background, you’re susceptible to skin cancer, as long as you’re exposed to the sun. Which types of skin cancer are the most common?
- Melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer by far.
- Actinic keratoses (AK)
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – often mistaken for a scab that never quite heals. Not as serious as melanoma, but BCC skin cancer still requires yearly screenings.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – rivals basal cell carcinoma as the most common type of skin cancer.
The good news about most types of skin cancer (besides melanoma) is that early detection and effective treatment methods contribute to a very high recovery rate – more than 9 in 10 people will completely recover to lead normal, healthy lives.
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer previously, yearly checkups are very important to detect any recurrence. Even one skipped annual visit can give skin cancer a chance to spread – so keep those appointments on your calendar!
Skin Cancer Screenings – What to Expect
If you’re referred to a specialist after an Urgent Care Extra medical test, you’ll most likely undergo a full-body examination from a dermatologist. And if you’ve never had one, there are a few things you should expect:
Remove any nail polish. It’s strange, but true: many cases of skin cancer are detected through nail analysis, and painted nails can prevent a thorough examination.
More moles = more minutes. On average, a skin cancer screening takes about 10-15 minutes. But if you have a large number of moles, it could take longer. If your skin is fairly blemish-free, your exam could be completed much faster than the typical 10 minutes.
Further study might be necessary. Study by your dermatologist, that is. And in order to properly analyze certain “trouble spots” – discolored moles, atypically-shaped freckles and more – a biopsy might be in order. Usually, the biopsy is performed at the conclusion of your cancer screening.
Don’t mistake every blemish for potential skin cancer. Before the exam takes place, take a deep breath and relax. Many times, skin tags, rashes and other minor skin irritations are thought to be cancerous. Too much time researching skin cancer on the Internet can lead to an over-active (and many times, inaccurate) self-diagnosis. Let your dermatologist determine where you are, and go from there!
How often should you get a professional skin cancer screening? One appointment every year is recommended. If you live in a sunny climate or have any family members or relatives with skin cancer, more frequent visits might be necessary.
Smart Self-Monitoring: The First Line of Defense Against Skin Cancer Starts with You!
A comprehensive skin cancer screening program starts at home. Self-checks are a great way to detect problem spots early. Here are the different body areas that merit inspection. One self-inspection every season should suffice. If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer previously, or have a family history of skin cancer, once per month is recommended. Check the following areas:
- Head and face. This includes your scalp (a hair dryer can help expose the scalp for proper inspection), neck and everywhere on your face: mouth, ears, nose and even your eyelids.
- Hands and arms. A full-length body mirror and hand mirror will help. Don’t forget your fingernails and elbows!
- Chest, back, waist. Give these areas the same thorough inspection.
- Lower body. Legs, buttocks, knees, shins, feet and everywhere else below your waist.
One last tip — keep a log and write it down! Take brief notes about your self-checks, and compare notes. Any new or changed blemishes warrant your attention. So strive for accuracy and detail with each self-check log; this provides an excellent “baseline” to compare future checks against.
The ABCs of Skin Cancer
If you plan on doing regular self-checkups, remember this five-point checklist:
A: Asymmetrical shape. Notify your dermatologist or doctor if any moles or blemishes have an odd, asymmetrical shape.
B: Border area. Pay attention to a mole’s border. “Ragged edges” are one of the tell-tale signs that a cancerous growth may be present.
C: Color. Non-uniform color is another important attribute. Different shades of one color or entirely different colors within the same mole is a common sign of early-stage skin cancer.
D: Diameter or size. Any growth that exceeds 6 millimeters across is cause for concern. Don’t delay in getting it checked out.
E: Evolving. A patch of skin cancer rarely stays the same. If your mole constantly changes appearance (shape, color, size, etc.), make an appointment with your dermatologist.
Urgent Care Extra’s medical test services are offered to all of our patients, either as a scheduled appointment or walk-in checkup. Regular medical tests are part of a smart self-administered healthcare plan, and UCE has the resources and staff to help in this regard. While we’re not a skin cancer specialist, our professional medical staff of physicians, nurses and others can administer a thorough check and refer you to a skin cancer specialist, if necessary.
Visit an Urgent Care Extra walk-in medical clinic today. We have dozens of convenient, full-service facilities all across Arizona. Don’t delay with your medical tests – stop by today. For more information about UCE, please call our main office at (480) 988-9108.