Skin health matters. Every hour, one American dies of melanoma, the deadliest (and rarest) form of skin cancer. This year, experts expect to see 10,000 deaths from the disease. Not to mention, a new report from the Mayo Clinic shows that two types of skin cancer are increasing at startling rates among women. (That’s why these sunscreens for working out are so vital, as are workout clothes that offer UPF protection.)
Fortunately, skin cancer screenings—it’s as simple as going into your derm’s office to have them check your body for any suspicious moles or changes that could signal cancer—are life-saving. But you might be surprised to learn that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force actually doesn’t suggest that everyone keep annual dates with their dermatologist.
Last summer, in an update to the recommendations, the group concluded that “there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against routine screening to find skin cancers early. This recommendation is for people who do not have a history of skin cancer and who do not have any suspicious moles or other spots.”
So what’s a lady to do? We caught up with top docs in the field to find out how often you should really have your skin checked.
Understanding the Task Force Recommendations
Recent studies may have failed to show the effectiveness of routine screenings for melanoma for everyone, but dermatologists do still recommend yearly screenings.
“Generally speaking, I recommend that everyone starts getting an annual body check in early adulthood,” says Marc Glashofer, M.D., a skin cancer surgeon at the Dermatology Group in West Orange, New Jersey. “If you can vote, you should get your skin checked annually by a board-certified dermatologist.”
In part, that’s because the U.S. Task Force doesn’t take into account non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The recommendations are instead based off of death rates from melanoma, explains Hooman Khorasani, M.D., the chief of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery and an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Basal and squamous cell aren’t as deadly as melanoma, but they’re far more common. Every year, more than 3.3 million people in the U.S. are treated for these cancers. (Basal cell cancers can sometimes look pimple-like, like red bumps, and squamous cell cancers can appear scaly or sandpaper-y.)
Only a fraction of these cancers spread to other parts of the body, but catching them early can be the difference between easy (and near scar-free) removal and serious surgery that can have a significant impact on your life (like having to remove large sections of your nose), says Dr. Khorasani.