What can you expect if you have an appointment with Dr. Melanie Adams to get a skin exam? You may be wondering what kinds of conditions for which she will be looking during her assessment. During a skin exam, Dr. Adams will simply look at your skin -- it’s a visual screening, so there are no machines or needles involved.
Skin cancer screening
Although Dr. Adams looks for any unusual feature of your skin during an exam, she is especially alert to anything that could be one of the three types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and there are more than four million cases of it in the U.S. It rarely spreads, so it isn’t usually life-threatening, but if it’s left untreated, it can cause disfigurement.
Basal cell carcinoma may look different in different people. Some of the symptoms may be:
- A sore that oozes or bleeds, then heals and reappears
- A red patch of skin, that could be crusty, itchy, or painful - or that is just a red patch
- A shiny bump that is pearly, clear, red, or white but could be tan, black, or brown and look like a normal mole
- A pink growth with a raised edge
- An area that looks like a scar
Because symptoms of basal cell carcinoma can look like a normal mole or may seem innocuous, it’s important to be screened by someone with training, like Dr. Adams. If you or someone in your family has a history of basal cell carcinoma, it is especially important to have regular skin exams, because you have a higher risk of developing the condition.
Squamous cell carcinoma
The second most common type of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Around one million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year. It can be fatal or disfiguring if left untreated, however, with proper treatment, it is nearly always curable.
Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma may look like:
- A thick, scaly, or rough patch of skin that bleeds if bumped or scratched
- A wart that crusts over or bleeds
- An open sore with a raised edge
Of the three types of skin cancer, melanoma is the rarest and the most dangerous, because it can spread to other parts of the body. Around 10,000 Americans die from melanoma each year, but it if it is identified and treated early, it can usually be cured.
During a skin exam, Dr. Adams looks for signs of melanoma, which could include:
- Asymmetrical moles
- Moles with uneven borders that are scalloped or notched
- Moles that are more than one shade of brown, black, or tan
- Larger moles -- such as those that are bigger than a pencil’s eraser
- Moles that have changed in color, shape, size, or in any other way
Actinic keratosis, a potential precancer
Actinic keratosis, or keratoses if there’s more than one, is a growth that can turn into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. During a skin exam, Dr. Adams looks for these small, crusty growths. Actinic keratoses are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation, from both natural sunlight and indoor tanning.
Actinic keratoses may be so small they are not visible, or they can be as large as a quarter-inch. They may come and go, and in rare cases, they may itch or become inflamed.
Along with the visual examination, you should expect Dr. Adams to ask lots of questions about your history, lifestyle, whether or not you use sunscreen, and other factors that could put you at risk. You should also be prepared to ask any questions about moles, rough spots, or discolorations in your skin.