According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you and each family member should be screened once a year. However, if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you should schedule skin exams more frequently. Skin cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer if it is detected early enough.
During the screening, the physician exams the patient from head to toe looking for skin abnormalities or lesions. In some cases, suspicious areas may appear to be bleeding, scaly, red or dark in color or not healing properly. Be sure to mention any areas that have shown changes within a month up to two years.
The lesions are then treated accordingly; either with a biopsy or liquid nitrogen. Often times, if caught early, some lesions may be treated with topical creams. The goal of screenings is to catch changing lesions early to minimize the risk of major surgery.
A normal mole or freckle is symmetrical, meaning if you were to cut them in half they would be the same on both sides. With skin cancer, freckles and moles may be different on either side or have different shapes. Although this is not a definite call for skin cancer, if a mole is asymmetrical then the physician will most likely keep an eye on it for changes or ask for a sample to be taken.
A physician may become concerned when moles have blurry and abnormal edges. This can be a sign of precancerous growth and should be monitored closely.
Most moles have one solid color. Any mole with a variety of colors are suspicious and should be monitored. Watch for color changes begin to darken or lighten in random spots.
Most moles are smaller than ¼ an inch. If a mole or mark is larger than a pencil eraser, it should be checked by a physician.
If the mole changes in size, color or shape, schedule a skin exam.