How often should you see your dermatologist?

Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Moles are something you should keep an eye on. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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Most people are probably aware that the skin is an organ -- the largest one on the body. Because of this distinction, skin is susceptible to cancer, just like your lungs, stomach, brain, breasts and prostate. While it's not as deadly as other cancers, skin cancer kills almost 12,000 people each year and there were more than 68,000 new cases of melanoma skin cancer (the deadliest) reported in 2009 [source: American Cancer Society]. Non-melanoma skin cancers are mostly located in the areas that aren't exposed to the sun. Melanoma skin cancers are almost always due to sun exposure, which is why sunblock is an essential item for anyone who yearns to spend extended amounts of time outside.

Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer, but even the most deadly melanoma kind is almost always curable if it's caught early enough. There are nearly 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer found each year in the United States alone [source: American Cancer Society]. You're at risk for skin cancer if you spend prolonged amounts of time in the sun without taking proper precautions to cover up or use sunblock. You're also more at risk if it runs in your family or if you have a fair complexion. Another reason to watch out for skin cancer is if you've had severe sunburn at any point in your childhood.


So should you worry about every odd mole or splotch that turns up on your shoulder? Do you need to freak out when you freckle more than usual in the summer time? Lucky for you, your dermatologist has the answers to these questions. A visit to check out something new on your skin is always a good idea, but is it enough to detect an impending skin cancer? Read on to find out just how often you should visit your dermatologist.

Dermatologist Visits

Performing self checks is key to avoiding skin cancer.
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While most people may not adhere to this advice, it's recommended that adults visit their dermatologist at least once per year for a full body examination. This is if you're completely healthy and have no history of skin cancer. Once you see your dermatologist for an exam, and he or she gets you and your family's history, he or she may recommend that you have more than one exam per year.

Here are a few reasons you may be more at risk for skin cancer:


  • You've had a previous occurrence of skin cancer.
  • You have a blood relative who has had skin cancer.
  • You have a mole that is suspicious in appearance.
  • When you were younger, you had X-ray treatments for acne.
  • You're exceptionally fair-skinned.

You should also perform regular checks on yourself to look for new moles, lumps and discoloration of your skin. There isn't a right age to begin seeing a dermatologist, but many adolescents start to help treat their acne. Dermatologists also treat athlete's foot, cold sores, rashes and hives, psoriasis, hair loss, as well as treatment of scars and warts. Any of these reasons are good enough for your first appointment, and after that, your doctor will have a recommendation as to how often you should come back for an exam. These doctors' orders are just as important as any other you'd receive from your general practitioner, specialist or dentist, so you should follow their advice.

As far as what counts as unusual when it comes to moles and other skin lesions, look for any changes in the affected area. If your mole or splotch is growing, it's time to make an appointment. If it bleeds and refuses to heal, that's also a bad sign, and you should get it checked out. The best way to avoid skin cancer is to regularly perform self checks, wear sunblock whenever you're in the sun and go to your dermatologist once a year for a thorough once-over.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Dermatologist." 2009.
  • "Safety in the Sun: How to Protect Your Kids From Skin Cancer." 2009.
  • "Skin Cancer Facts." 2009.
  • "When to See a Dermatologist." 2009.
  • "Why see a Dermatologist?" 2009.
  • Baral, Jim. "How Often Should I Visit My Dermatologist?" 2009.,,9t1f,00.html
  • Vann, Madeline. "Should You See a Dermatologist?" 2009.