Screening for skin cancer

Screening for skin cancerIf you’ve never been for skin-cancer screening or are about to go for one, here’s what you can expect during your appointment.

There are plenty of things I know I’m supposed to do for my health that I admit I skip (and yes, 90% of them are gym-related). A skin-cancer screening, though, isn’t one of them. Nonmelanoma skin cancers may be slowly decreasing, but melanoma is on the rise – and it’s the most common cancer for my age group (25- to 29-year-olds).

I asked dermatologist Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, to demystify this important annual appointment.

"Patients fear the unknown, or they cancel their appointment because they’ve been on vacation and they feel guilty about their tan. But before they know it, six months have gone by." Graf says there’s nothing to fear. The appointment will be quick and painless – at least this time.

It only takes about 15 minutes. First, the doctor will ask you about both your family and personal skin history – whether anyone has had skin cancer, how often you’re exposed to the sun, how many sunburns you’ve had, and of course, whether you’ve ever done any indoor tanning.

You will have to strip. Once you’ve undressed, the doctor will examine every inch of your skin with a magnifying glass, from your scalp to between your toes. If you’re feeling self-conscious, remember that they’ve seen it all before and a few minutes of exposure means knowing the truth about your skin. "This is a great time for you to get familiar with your skin, too," says Graf.

No pinching, squeezing, or cutting. If you need anything removed, that will most likely happen at a later appointment. "If I see something suspicious, I’ll ask you to come back so I can take a closer look," says Graf. That’s when your doctor will schedule a mole removal or order a biopsy.

See, there really is nothing to be scared of. All it takes is 15 minutes and you’ll be better knowing than not and living with the doubt and guilt.

Written by Catherine Devine, this article originally appeared in Allure.

IMAGE: dean bertoncelj/

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17 Responses

  1. Hi Hess
    There is no right or wrong time – if you are concerned about a specific mole or blemish, make an appointment as soon as you are able to. If you just want a general check-up, once a year will suffice.

  2. I have been pretty good when it comes to this. But last check was a year ago and it is probably time for a next one.

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