Disease Prevention in Women (cont.)

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Melanoma and other skin cancers

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.

Screening tests

Total body skin examination

Who to test and how often

The American Cancer Society recommends a skin check every three years between the ages of 20 and 40, and a skin check annually over age 40.

Adults with higher than normal risk for melanoma should be particularly vigilant if they have:

  • a family history of melanoma;
  • are middle-aged adults with frequent sun exposure;
  • a history of serious or frequent sunburn. Childhood sunburn is particularly risky;
  • more than 50 moles; and
  • fair skin.

See a doctor if the mole has the following characteristics:

  • diameter more than 6mm;
  • asymmetric, meaning an uneven shape;
  • irregular border; and
  • variable color pattern, meaning many colors or unusual colors, like blue or black.

Benefits of early detection

Skin cancer is the most common cancer. Even though the benefit of skin cancer screening is uncertain (so far, research has not shown that death from skin cancer can be decreased after a regular screening program is instituted), early treatment of skin cancer can be effective. Melanomas may be detected at an earlier stage with regular skin exams. Thinner melanomas are more successfully treated than are thick ones that have grown downward into the deeper portions of the skin.

Previous contributing author and editor: Daniel L. Gornel, MD, MPH and Dennis Lee, MD

Medically Reviewed by Steven Nelson, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology


Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. Braumwald E, Fauci AS, et al. 17th Edition. 2007. McGraw Hill.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; "HPV vaccination- recommendations."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; "The Pap Test."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF); "Screening for Breast cancer."

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/28/2014

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