Do you need routine full-body skin cancer screenings?

Do you need routine full-body skin cancer screenings?

Regular screenings are essential for the early detection and treatment of a variety of cancers.

Yet, a recent study by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests there is not enough evidence to prove that full body skin cancer screenings help reduce the number of deaths from melanoma, which account for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. The study also suggests the benefits of full skin screenings may not outweigh some of the byproducts of testing such as scarring, further skin damage and inaccurate diagnoses.

Dr. Vik Khanna, dermatologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital, disagrees with these recommendations.

“The results of the study are not wrong, per se,” says Dr. Khanna. “However, the USPSTF makes screening recommendations for the whole population, not individuals, and this can be confusing for the average person.”

Dr. Khanna says those with a family history of skin cancer, sun burns, tanning bed use or a fair complexion may have a higher risk for melanoma and should be screened regularly. In addition, anyone who notices changes in the size or color of a mole should see their primary care doctor or a dermatologist right away.

“Skin cancers are almost always treatable when caught early, yet if caught late, can cause pain, disfigurement, bleeding and death,” says Dr. Khanna. “While a full body examination might not be cost effective across an entire population, it can still be life-saving for an individual.”

According to the Centers of Disease Control, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with melanoma being the most deadly. The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which rarely spreads and is unlikely to be fatal. Melanoma is less common, but much more likely to spread throughout the body and lead to death.

“It is essential to detect melanoma early, because the deeper the tumor grows, the worse the prognosis,” says Dr. Khanna. “Of course, protecting yourself from developing skin cancer in the first place by taking proper precautions is key.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following guidelines to prevent skin cancer:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10am and 4pm to avoid getting burned.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) SPF 15 or higher sunscreen daily and a water-resistant, UVA/UVB SPF 30 or higher sunscreen for outdoor activities.
  • Apply 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • Ask your physician to include a skin exam as part of your annual physical.

Related Posts



  1. I think articles that help clarify published studies like this are so valuable, so thank you!

    Misconceptions that can arise from such studies can misguide the public and cause confusion. I really appreciate the emphasis on knowing your history and individual exposure as an indicator of your risk. I personally do a skin check every year with my dermatologist and it’s so quick, extremely non invasive and gives me the reassurance and guidance I need to stay healthy. Take care of your skin, everyone!

    • Jennifer Benson
      Jennifer Benson August 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm · Reply

      Thank you Lesley for your comments. It is great to hear you are taking care of your skin and seeing a dermatologist regularly.

  2. A routine recommendation by my primary physician at an annual checkup sent me to a dermatologist, who did a head-to-toe. I thought this was overkill, but, to my surprise, she found that a little red dot on my nose, which I had not recognized as a problem, was a basal cell carcinoma! It was not expensive to do the head-to-toe and did not take much time. It turned out to be a good investment. Left unattended, the doctors warned, the cancer could have spread, causing damage or a need for more extensive treatment. In addition to taking care of this, the head-to-toe pointed to the need, with my fair skin, for more sun precautions than I would have taken to avoid more of these or other forms of skin cancer in the future.

  3. Jennifer Benson
    Jennifer Benson August 15, 2016 at 5:01 pm · Reply

    Wow! Thank you for sharing Susan. That is a great story of prevention and being empowered about your skin health in the future.

About the Author

Jennifer Benson
Jennifer Benson

Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.