Poll: When Was The Last Time You Got Checked For Melanoma?

It's a common myth that only fair skinned people are at risk for skin cancer, but actually anyone can get it. In fact, it's predicted that one in five Americans will develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in their lifetime.

What makes melanoma different from other forms of skin cancer, like basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, is that other forms tend to stay in one area and grow very slowly. “What makes melanoma potentially deadly is that it can take on a variety of appearances and can mimic benign skin growths, therefore delaying the diagnosis. Another difference is that melanoma can spread to other organs even when it appears as a small speck or growth on the skin. Once it spreads, prognosis dramatically worsens,” says San Antonio, TX, dermatologist Vivian Bucay, MD.

The frequency that you should be checked for skin cancer depends on your family's history of skin cancer, whether you've already had it and your history of sunburns. Those who are at a higher risk should do an at-home skin check once a month, and in-office every six to 12 months. For those who are at a lower risk, a full body exam is recommended every one to two years, says Dr. Bucay. She also recommends doing an annual eye exam as well because melanoma can actually start there too.

A basic skin check involves searching the entire surface of the skin including between the toes to the outer genital area to the scalp. You should also remove all nail polish before the check up because melanoma can hide in your nails as well. If your doctor finds any suspicious moles or spots, they will do a simple biopsy and send it to a dermatopathologist, a physician who specializes in examining skin biopsies.

It's extremely important to wear sunscreen 365 days of the year, even if you live in a cloudy area. Also, if you live in a higher altitude, your exposure to ultraviolet radiation is increased. It's always good to stay out of the sun as much as possible, but if you can't avoid it, be sure to wear a hat, frequently reapply sunscreen, and don't forget to protect your lips. Also, Dr. Bucay suggests applying sunscreen to your hands and feet before getting a manicure or pedicure that involves using UV light.

With so many people at risk for skin cancer, specifically melanoma, we want to know about you. How often do you get checked for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer? Tell us in the *comments below.

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*Comments may take up to an hour to post.

12 Comments
  • Dawn
    Posted on

    I get checked every six months. I have melanoma on both sides of my family. I watched one family member I loved so much die a horrible death due to melanoma. The other family member had a toe amputated due to melanoma. I now work for a dermatologist and see this every single day. PLEASE wear and reapply sunscreen or sunblock (UVA and UVB). Use sun protective clothing and glasses. Do not tan or burn, and don't even think about using tanning beds.

  • Timothy
    Posted on

    I have never been checked. I am in my 50's, a fair-skinned redhead who worked his way through college doing road-work. Never tanned, but got deeper and deeper red each summer. Scary part: I am a scientist who should know better.

  • anonymous
    Posted on

    Every six months I get check by my dermotologist.

  • Samantha
    Posted on

    Last year I had a friend who died of skin cancer - she was only 43 years old - since then, i have been vigilant - every 6 months and I am trying to make all of my friends go just as often. Its easy to do and everyone should go. Tragedies can be so easily avoided. GET CHECKED

  • Anita Saluja Anonymous
    Posted on

    I think one of the key messages is to not be shy and not cover up during your skin exam with your dermatologist. Let us look everywhere. Also, you should know your body best so if you do your monthly self skin checks at home in a thorough manner, you will be better off.

  • Dr. Tamella Cassis
    Posted on

    I can't agree more with such a well written article. I encourage my patients to come in for a yearly skin check unless they are at a higher risk of skin cancer or have personally had skin cancer. Everyone needs to check them selves out at home at least on a monthly basis. In my office we discuss being on the look out for change, ie. the larger, darker, ithchy, crusty, bleeding, non-healing spot. The youngest person I have diagnosed with STAGE 4 Melanoma was 17 years old. It was in her scalp! That was a horrible day and I hope to never have to do it again. Please make sure your Board Certified Dermatologist is doing a skin check from head to toe, always tell your doctor the spots that you are concerned about and really save the non-skin cancer questions for another appointment. You want your dermatologist to be focusing on skin cancer and not trying to answer 15 questions about wrinkles, warts and acne, ect. Please do not use the tanning bed and be as smart as you can when you are in the sun. It just might save your life! Plus we will keep you younger looking!

  • Posted on

    I had two young women in my office last week with melanoma. The first young girl I had to tell was 19 years old. Her mother cried and my heart broke for them both. During the previous visit, the girl was very tan and not too interested in sunscreen advice. She used tanning beds also. The second young women was in her 20's and beautiful- she had worked for a tanning bed salon for 2 years. Both of these young women never thought it could happen to them. The rate of melanoma in women 19-39 yrs old has gone up 800% since the 1970's. Please listen to your doctor, friend or mother's advice, wear your sunscreen. Don't tan or use tanning beds. Your life does depend on it.

  • Jasmine
    Posted on

    This is really making me think. I have to make an appointment! I've never been checked!

  • Lori
    Posted on

    How ironic! I"m actually going tomorrow for my check up, but i have to admit I only do it once a year - if that.

  • Lisa L
    Posted on

    I just found out last Thursday that I do have melanoma. It is on my back and I go back on May 17th to have it all removed and then find out what happens next. All I can say to everyone is to use sunscreen

  • Courtney
    Posted on

    I go once a year

  • Morgan
    Posted on

    Every 3 months

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