When you visit your dermatologist, he or she will thoroughly examine your skin and ask about your medical history. If you need laboratory tests, your dermatologist will explain why you need them and approximately how long it usually takes to get results.
Here are some questions and answers that will help you know when to see your dermatologist and what you can do to protect your skin and health between your doctor visits.
Dermatologists treat a wide range of conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. They are experts in skin cancer diagnosis and treatment.
You should visit your dermatologist at least once each year for a thorough skin examination. If you have issues between your yearly visit, including acne, suspicious areas that do not heal, a rash, or an infected nail, you should contact your dermatologist’s office. Many skin conditions can be easily diagnosed and treated by an experienced physician.
Factors that increase a person’s risk of skin cancer include:
- Fair skin or skin that freckles, easily turns red, or quickly becomes sensitive after sun exposure
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- Family history of skin cancer
- Exposure to the sun at work or play
- Sunburns, especially early in life
- Exposure to tanning beds
You should consult a dermatologist promptly if you have a growth or skin spot that rapidly changes size, shape or color or bleeds easily. Sores that recur, don’t heal, or persist for more than a few weeks should also be evaluated by your dermatologist.
Only a dermatologist can distinguish a benign skin growth from cancer. If you have a suspicious growth, your dermatologist is likely to remove part or all of it for biopsy. In some cases, he or she will advise additional treatment to ensure that all the cancer cells have been removed.
If it's left untreated, melanoma can spread and be life-threatening; however, if it is found and treated in its early stages, melanoma is curable. Other skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma are curable or manageable. To protect your health and find skin cancer early, be sure to see your dermatologist each year (or sooner if you have a suspicious spot on your skin.)
Skin cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer. Melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma are typically removed (or excised) surgically. Mohs micrographic surgery is a precise technique for removing skin cancer that helps preserve healthy tissue. Other techniques for treating skin cancer include curettage and electrosurgery, cryosurgery, radiation, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, and topical medications.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to limit your exposure to the sun. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.
There is no safe way to tan. Tanning occurs when damaging ultraviolet rays enter the skin.
Excessive exposure to the sun can cause your skin to wrinkle, form blotches, roughen, redden, and be prone to bruising and skin cancer.
The US Department of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer have confirmed that ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds can cause cancer. Recent research shows a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma in people who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning before age 35.