Jeffrey Weideman, PA-C, Mankato Clinic Dermatology, River’s Edge Campus, Saint Peter
Do you recommend that women check their skin for signs of melanoma and skin cancer? If so, how often?
I recommend that everyone perform self skin-exams. Frequency is dependent on risk factors and should be discussed with your provider. A good rule of thumb is to look at your skin as often as possible by using mirrors before or after a shower. While melanoma can be found anywhere on the skin, it is important to check your back as this is a common location. The more often you do it the better you will get. We don’t expect you to know exactly what to look for, but with repetition you can become familiar with your skin in order to recognize new or changing moles more easily. Remember to familiarize yourself with the ABCDE’s of melanoma. It can sometimes be helpful to take pictures of atypical moles on a cell phone for monitoring (only if the lesion has already been deemed “normal” by a provider). If you are not comfortable with performing self-skin exams, you can work with your dermatologist to set up an in-office examination schedule that is appropriate based on your risks.
When are full body skin checks by a dermatologist recommended? What are the risk factors that may warrant skin checks by a dermatologist?
Anyone that has moles should have an initial evaluation regardless of age. Frequency of re-examination can then be discussed at the appointment. Risk factors that may affect how often you should be seen include underlying skin complexion, number of moles, the particular appearance of your moles, past sun exposure, past tanning bed use, personal history of skin cancer and family history of skin cancer.
Why is early detection of melanoma so important?
Melanoma is a “bad actor” cancer. It has higher potential to metastasize and higher death rates than other skin cancers. Fortunately, it is preventable, is rarer than other skin cancers and is also curable when detected early.
What should women do if they find a mole that looks suspicious?
It is best to have all unusual-looking or rapidly-growing moles evaluated by a medical professional. Most dermatology providers use a pocket microscope, called a dermatoscope, to examine moles in more detail than what can be achieved with the naked eye. Seeing certain features on a microscopic level can then help with the counseling involved on what to do next. Some clinics, including Mankato Clinic Dermatology, do not require a referral to schedule an appointment. Primary Care Providers are also an excellent first-line option if unable to schedule with dermatology in a timely manner.
Do you have any advice that you regularly give women about preventing skin cancer?
Melanoma is thought to be caused by a relationship between sun exposure, genetics and environmental factors. Sun protection is key. Even better, sun avoidance. I recommend sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. My personal favorite are the “mineral” sunscreens. It is important to re-apply every 2 hours if you are out for longer periods of time. Wear a hat and long sleeves if necessary. Technologically advanced fabrics offer sun protection while keeping the skin cool at the same time. There are useful UV index apps that tell you when UV rays are at their peak. This is generally around 11:00 am to 3:00 pm every day.