DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My physician recommended that I be screened by a dermatologist for a baseline risk assessment. What is this, and is it necessary? I use sunscreen regularly and have skin that normally does not burn. Am I still at risk for skin cancer?
ANSWER: Anyone can get skin cancer, so it is a good idea for everyone to get a baseline risk assessment from a dermatologist. This assessment can give you a better understanding of your risk for developing skin cancer. It also can help determine how often you should see a dermatologist for checkups.
There are three major types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer worldwide. Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common. Although less common than the other two, melanoma is a more serious type of skin cancer that can be difficult to treat if not caught early.
Many skin cancers do not cause obvious symptoms. The only indication people often have of skin cancer is a new growth on the skin or a skin change. Occasionally, skin cancer may be painful to the touch or bleed when lightly bumped.
The lack of symptoms makes timely checkups with a dermatologist critical in catching skin cancer early -- when it is easier to treat. That’s where a baseline risk assessment comes in. The best time to have one is near the end of puberty, usually in the late teens. At the assessment, a dermatologist examines your skin and reviews your skin cancer risk factors. Based on your risk, you are given a recommendation on how often you should have follow-up appointments.
As you mention, skin type does play a role in skin cancer risk. People with fair skin who burn easily are at higher risk. But keep in mind that people with darker complexions can get skin cancer, too. The fact that you don’t typically burn is no guarantee you won’t get skin cancer.