Like other forms of cancer, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of cells. It usually develops on skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, nose, and lips, and it affects people who spend a lot of time outdoors in sunny climates without protective clothing or sunscreen. Fortunately, a skin cancer screening test can help identify signs of skin cancer in its earliest stages when it is easiest to treat.
What Is A Skin Cancer Screening Test?
A skin cancer screening test is the first line of prevention against or treatment for skin cancer. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that all adults have a skin cancer screening at least once a year and more frequently for those who have had skin cancer before or are at higher risk of getting skin cancer1. Moreover, while self-examination is important, in a recent study nearly 52% of melanoma cases diagnosed were not identified as suspicious by the patient and, thus, were only detected through screening2. While many physicians may offer skin cancer screenings, dermatologists are specially trained to spot skin cancers or precancerous changes in the skin.
During a routine skin cancer screening, the dermatologist will examine every area of skin on your body. He or she may use an instrument called a dermatoscope to look more closely at moles or other markings on your skin. If a spot looks suspicious, the dermatologist will ask you how long it has been there; if you have noticed any changes over time; and if it itches, causes pain, or bothers you in some way. A skin cancer screening will not provide a diagnosis, but if skin cancer is suspected, the dermatologist may take a tissue sample (biopsy) for analysis in a lab. If results from the skin cancer screening show that the sample is malignant (cancerous), your doctor will determine which kind of treatment is most appropriate. Remember, early detection and treatment are critical in preventing the spread of cancer to other parts of your body.
The primary risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. This puts workers in certain occupations at higher risk for the disease: for example, outdoor workers such as fishermen, gardeners, and farmers have the highest risk of lip cancer. Moreover, overexposure during childhood, resulting in frequent and/or severe sunburns, can cause a form of skin cancer known as melanoma later in life. Other causes of skin cancer include prolonged exposure to radiation, such as exposure through repeated X-rays; occupational exposure to chemicals; and lifestyle choices such as use of tanning beds and smoking, the latter of which has been shown to decrease survival rates of melanoma patients.
What Are The Types Of Skin Cancer?
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. BCC and SCC, described as nonmelanoma skin cancers, make up most skin cancers and are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. Malignant melanoma, however, is highly aggressive and known to spread to other parts of the body. It can be fatal if not treated early.
What Are The Symptoms Or Signs Of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancers start as precancerous changes or lesions on the skin. These lesions include small crusty or scaly patches known as actinic keratoses and abnormal moles. Actinic keratoses commonly appear on the sun-damaged skin of people over 40 years of age. They are most common on the head, neck, and back of the hands but can also appear on the face, lips, ears, scalp, and forearms. They may be white, rough, and wart-like in appearance, or raised, pink, and scabby looking. Abnormal or atypical moles can be distinguished from normal moles by asymmetry of pigmentation (half of the mole is one color and half is another color), irregular shape, variations in color (pink, red, tan, brown), size greater than that of a pencil eraser (6 millimeters), and changes in size, color, or shape over time. Both actinic keratoses and atypical moles can be signs of potential skin cancer and should be examined by a dermatologist.
What Is The Treatment For Skin Cancer?
There are various treatments for skin cancer:
How Much Does A Skin Cancer Screening Cost?
Due to the widely diverse levels of coverage offered by health insurance plans in the United States, it is impossible to say precisely what the out-of-pocket cost for a skin cancer screening will be. However, the study mentioned above determined that, in 2018, the overall mean visit cost for a skin cancer screening visit was $150, consisting of $105 for the cost of the office visit and $45 for the biopsy2.
The main factor that determines health care coverage for any procedure is medical necessity. So, while a comprehensive medical health insurance plan may cover part or all of the cost of a necessary skin cancer screening, it may not cover a routine or elective screening. Medicare follows a similar policy: while routine skin screenings are not covered, those provided as a follow-up to a biopsy or diagnosis of a suspicious lesion are covered.
How Much Does Skin Cancer Treatment Cost?
Once skin cancer or a precancerous lesion has been diagnosed, cost of treatment will then depend on the size and location of the suspected cancerous tissue and the extent of the procedure needed. For example, while in general removal of any atypical mole is often covered by insurance, removal of larger moles and facial moles costs more. Again, most health insurance should cover at least some of the cost of medically necessary treatment. For individuals with no health insurance, Saguaro Dermatology offers very competitive and transparent pricing for its services, sometimes charging as little as half the fees at comparable dermatological practices. Our friendly and informed staff will be happy to fully explain fees before any procedure.
Final word on Skin Cancer Screening
Unless detected and treated early, skin cancer is deadly. Once it spreads beyond the top layer of the skin, the five-year survival rate begins to drop. Be proactive in self-examining your skin and schedule a total-body skin cancer screening soon.
- Bain J. Get Your Skin Examined! In: Skin Cancer Foundation, Sun & Skin News, November 28, 2016. Accessed March 2020 at https://www.skincancer.org/blog/annual-skin-exam/
- Matsumoto M, Secrest A, Anderson A, et al. Estimating the cost of skin cancer detection by dermatology providers in a large healthcare system. J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78(4):701-709. Accessed March 2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5963718/
- Pukkala E, Martinsen JI, Lynge E, et al. Occupation and cancer – follow-up of 15 million people in five Nordic countries. Acta Oncol 2009;48(5); 649-750
- Venosa A. History of smoking affects how the body fights melanoma. Skin Cancer Foundation, Sun & Skin News, February 2019, accessed March 2020 at https://www.skincancer.org/blog/history-of-smoking-affects-how-the-body-fights-melanoma/
- Venosa A. How dangerous is melanoma? It’s all a matter of timing. Skin Cancer Foundation, Sun & Skin News, October 2017, accessed March 2020 at https://www.skincancer.org/blog/dangerous-melanoma-matter-timing/