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Common Health Tests (cont.)

Skin Cancer

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that, if allowed to spread, is highly dangerous. Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of all skin cancer cases, but it causes most skin cancer deaths. Over the past several decades, the number of cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States have been increasing. Although survival from this form of skin cancer is improving, the death rate is still increasing.

  • The screening test for melanoma is a simple, relatively quick, noninvasive, and inexpensive visual examination of the skin by a trained health care professional. If there is any question about any lesion seen on this visual examination, then a skin biopsy is performed. During a biopsy or during a mole removal, a piece of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope.
  • Prevention of melanoma needs to start in childhood and involves avoiding exposure to sunlight. This is achieved by wearing a hat, covering up with a long-sleeved shirt or similar clothing, and wearing sunscreen on exposed areas. The Australians developed the catchy expression "Slip Slap Slop" for slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen.
  • Although melanoma is the type of skin cancer most people are concerned about, other types of skin cancer can be equally as devastating. Again, a relatively simple visual inspection, performed on a regular basis, should be performed as part of an annual checkup. This is particularly important for people who spend a long time in the open air, or for anyone with a past history of skin cancers, or those with a strong family history.

Medically reviewed by Martin E Zipser, MD; American Board of Surgery


Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/12/2015
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