Skin Cancer Screening Guidelines

Skin cancers are more common than all other cancers combined. Collectively, their incidence is rising faster than that of any other cancer. About 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancers are serious but treatable, although some can be deadly. 

When diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate for people with skin cancer is 99%. Knowing your skin cancer risk factors is an important step toward prevention. 

There are currently no medical skin cancer screening tests. The best method for early detection of skin cancer is with thorough monthly self-exams of all skin. This includes under your nails and hair. 

What to look for when checking your skin:

  • New spots
  • Bleeding sores that won’t heal
  • Rough or scaly red patches
  • Wart-like growths
  • New moles or moles that change size, shape, or color or have irregular shape

After examining your skin, let your doctor know of any concerns or changes to your skin so they can talk with you about next steps. 

Skin Cancer Risk Factors

It’s important to know the risk factors for skin cancer. This will help you take steps to control the risk factors you can. Be aware, however, that having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get skin cancer, and people with no risk factors can still get skin cancer.

Common risk factors include:

  • Age – Risk increases with age, especially in men
  • Exposure to natural or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time
  • Damaged skin (scars, burns, inflammation)
  • Family history
  • Having a fair complexion, including:
    • Fair skin that freckles or burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly
    • Blue, green, or other light-colored eyes
    • Red or blond hair
  • Gender – Skin cancer is most prevalent in men, but women’s risk is higher before age 50.
  • Previous personal history of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis, familial dysplastic nevus syndrome or unusual moles
  • Previous radiation treatment
  • Smoking
  • Certain changes in genes or hereditary syndromes, such as basal cell nevus syndrome, that are linked to skin cancer
  • Weakened immune system

What to Expect

If any concerns are brought to your provider’s attention, they will examine the area of your skin. They’ll review your skin cancer risk factors and guide you on next steps, whether that’s a referral to a dermatologist or getting a biopsy of the tissue.

Get Started

If you notice anything concerning during your monthly self-exam, it’s important to share it with your primary care provider. 

A Note on Prevention

While there are many benefits to getting fresh air and exercise outdoors, it is important to protect your skin while doing so. Protect yourself by staying in the shade when possible, wearing protective clothing, and applying and re-applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.


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