You may have seen recently that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, recently concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend total-body screenings for skin cancer.
It’s important to remember that the USPTS was looking at a very specific question: Is there enough current evidence where you can clearly say that there should be a recommendation for the entire population to be screened for skin cancer? In making their recommendations they consider if doing such screenings saves lives or reduces the disease and whether the benefits of these screenings would outdo the possible harm that could come from screening everyone.
Their eventual conclusion was that there is just not enough evidence, for sure, to say that total-body screenings are recommended for everyone.
It’s important to note that this recommendation does not say you shouldn’t get a skin cancer screening, especially if you are at high-risk for, or have a history of skin cancer.
So who should get skin cancer screenings?
- Those with strong family history of skin cancer
- Those with a personal history of skin cancer
- Those with fair skin
- Those with lots of moles
- Those who have had a lot of severe sunburns which produce blisters or causes the skin to peel
A skin cancer screening typically consists of a visual inspection of your skin by either your family physician or a dermatologist. A good time to have a skin cancer screening might be during your annual physical or well-woman exam.
The best prevention for skin cancer is to make sure you and your family are well-protected when going out into the sun. Make sure to use sunscreen. More important than the SPF number on the label is that you actually use the recommended amount and that you reapply it often. If you do that, even if you’re not getting the full as-advertised SPF, you’re still getting pretty good protection.
It’s also important to use sunscreen with other behaviors. Don't just rely on the SPF, but wearing hats, long-sleeved clothing, sunglasses, using shade when you can and choosing to time your activities when the sun’s not at its strongest.