Skin Cancer Prevention & Screening | MedStar Health
Skin Cancer Screening MedStar Cancer

Skin cancer is a common, preventable form of cancer.

In the United States, more than 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer and/or melanoma each year, and more than 90 percent of cases are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Many times, the disease can be preventable by avoiding risk factors that cause the disease. Fortunately for patients who are diagnosed, it’s curable, especially if it’s discovered during the early stages. That’s why our dermatologists encourage patients to have annual “skin checks” or screenings, perform regular self-examinations, protect their skin with sunscreen, and wear protective clothing to prevent diagnosis.

While all people can get skin cancer, some people are at greater risk, and should be evaluated more regularly. These include people with:

  • Fair skin
  • A history of sunburns, or a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • A large number of moles or precancerous lesions, called actinic keratosis
  • Organ transplants

If you notice a suspicious skin change or have several risk factors, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your MedStar Health primary care doctor or dermatologist. Our specialists are trained in the latest skin cancer treatment options and will provide you with a thorough and timely evaluation.

Skin cancer screening recommendations

Adults over 20 years old should perform skin self-exams monthly.

One of the best ways to detect skin cancer and melanoma early is to know your body so you can spot any changes in your skin or moles. We recommend performing a monthly skin cancer self-exam by:

  • Looking at the front and back of your body in a full-length mirror, if possible.
  • Looking at your sides with your arms raised.
  • Bending your elbows and looking at your forearms and upper arms. (Don't forget to look at your hands.)
  • Sitting down and looking at the front and back of your legs and feet. Remember to look between your toes and on the bottom of your feet.
  • Checking the back of your neck and your scalp. (Try using a handheld mirror for a better look.)

What to look for: ABCDE skin cancer signs

The "ABCDE" rule can help you remember skin cancer and melanoma warning signs. Pay attention to:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other.

  • Border: The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.

  • Color: The color is often uneven, with shades of black, brown, and tan. You may also see areas of white, gray, red, or blue.

  • Diameter: The diameter is usually larger than six millimeters (mm) (the size of a pencil eraser) or has grown in size.

  • Evolving: The mole has been changing in size, shape, color, appearance, or growing in an area of previously normal skin. Also, when melanoma develops in an existing mole, the texture of the mole may change and become hard, lumpy, or scaly.

Although the skin may feel different and may itch, ooze, or bleed, this type of cancer usually does not cause pain. If you notice anything unusual or concerning, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor who can help detect cancer early. They may perform a skin biopsy to determine whether or not the lesion is cancerous.

Get your skin examined by a dermatologist if you have a high-risk of skin cancer

If you are considered to have a high risk of developing this cancer, you should get regular skin exams by a dermatologist, or skin specialist. Early detection significantly improves skin cancer survival rates, as the tumor can more easily be removed when it hasn't spread.

Skin cancer prevention

Most skin cancers are avoidable by circumventing risk factors that cause the disease. For example, you can reduce your risks by avoiding the sun during the middle of the day, wearing sunscreen year-round, wearing protective clothing, avoiding tanning beds and medications that make you more sensitive to the sun, and checking your skin regularly for signs.

To protect your skin from cancer and the ever-increasing radiation from the sun’s rays, just remember these four steps:

  1. SLIP: Slip on a comfortable shirt that is tightly woven.

  2. SLOP: Slop on the broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF anytime you're outdoors and reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating (even if it says waterproof).

  3. SLAP: Slap on a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, neck, and ears.

  4. WRAP: Wrap sunglasses around your eyes, some of the most sun-sensitive organs of your body.

Preventing recurring skin cancers

Once you have skin cancer, you have an increased risk for developing another skin cancer. So if you have a history of a slow-growing basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, you have a higher risk of developing another one, or more aggressive skin cancer, like melanoma. However, there may be ways to reduce or manage this risk. Our dermatologists are always available to discuss these options with you.

Looking for expert cancer care?

With multiple locations throughout the region, patients have access to many of the nation’s renowned cancer specialists offering high quality care, second opinions and a chance for better outcomes close to where they live and work. Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the nation’s comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), serves as the research engine allowing patients access to clinical trials that often lead to breakthroughs in cancer care.

Our locations

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MedStar Health: Dermatology at Chevy Chase

5530 Wisconsin Ave
The Chevy Chase Bldg.
Ste. 730
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

MedStar Health: Dermatology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Suite 1A50A
Washington, D.C., 20010

MedStar Health: Dermatology at Lafayette Centre

1133 21st St. NW
Building 2
5th Floor
Washington, D.C., 20036

MedStar Health: Dermatology in Washington D.C.

106 Irving St. NW
Physician's Office Bldg. South
Ste. 410
Washington, D.C., 20010