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The Preventive Health Issue

See a Dermatologist Before Something Concerns You

Preventive care is a crucial part of skin health. The earlier you notice something, the easier it is to solve.

In fact, the estimated five-year survival rate drops drastically as skin cancer—like melanoma—has the opportunity to spread. Survival rates are:

Dermatologists like myself typically recommend skin checks once a year if you are at high risk of skin cancer. COVID-19 delayed yearly skin checks for many.

The earlier you notice something, the easier it is to solve.

Missed Appointments

I saw a drop in patients getting their yearly skin checks during the pandemic. The challenges we faced included:

  • Full office closures at the beginning of the pandemic
  • Difficulty booking appointments because we could only see about 70% of the number of patients we did pre-pandemic (because of trying to space patients out)
  • Concerns about possible COVID-19 exposure if patients did come into the office

Mainly because of the last point, many of my patients missed over two years of appointments. This is a considerable gap between appointments, especially when you consider that it’s common for people at high risk for skin cancer to do a biopsy every six months or a year.

At-Home Skin Checks Between Appointments

At-home skin checks are a great option for those unable or unwilling to come into the office. To do an at-home skin check, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure your skin is clean before inspecting it. Start with your head and face, using mirrors for hard-to-see areas. Use a comb to separate your hair so you can check your scalp. Don’t forget your ears, under your chin, and your neck.
  2. Examine the tops and bottoms of your hands, including your fingernails and in between your fingers. 
  3. Examine your forearms, upper arms, underarms, chest, and belly. Women will need to check the skin under their breasts.
  4. Sit down and check your thighs, shins, tops, and bottoms of your feet, in between your toes, and toenails. 
  5. With the handheld mirror, check your calves and the backs of your thighs, lower back, buttocks and genital area, upper back, and back of your neck. Be as thorough as possible.

If you see something, don’t wait.

When checking your skin, look for bumps that aren’t healing or any open, crusty, or discolored skin. If you get something new in your skin, and it doesn’t resolve in four weeks, come in and get it checked out. Sometimes, these types of issues (crusty, scabby, nonhealing bumps) can end up being:

If you can have someone help you check your skin, that is a great option, too. I can’t tell you how many times someone comes in with something circled on their back that their partner spotted, and it’s melanoma. If you see something, don’t wait.

Preventive Procedures

The good news is that if we catch something early on, we can often treat it. For example, actinic keratosis—a common precancerous skin condition caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light—can be treated in several ways, including:

  • Cryosurgery (freezing them)
  • Curettage (scraping them)
  • Prescription creams

If you’re considered at high risk for developing skin cancer, you may also be eligible for medications to help prevent you from developing cancer.

Speak Up

If you call to make an appointment and the schedule is pretty far out, share your concerns with the receptionist. If there is something genuinely worrisome, the office does their best to schedule you in for at least a quick consult to make sure the issue isn’t something potentially serious that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

When in doubt, overshare. You can never tell your healthcare provider too much information. That little detail could be a determining factor in catching something early.

1 Source
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  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer facts and figures 2022.

By Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD
Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the Director of the Skin of Color Division at the University of Miami Department of Dermatology.