Welcome to the Inova Saville Cancer Screening and Prevention Center

Most skin cancers start in the top layer of the skin. When skin cancer gets more advanced, it generally grows deeper. There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Melanoma is the least common, but it’s the most likely of the three to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early.

Importance of Skin Cancer Screening

The goal of skin checks and early skin cancer screening is to catch skin cancer when it’s easiest to treat. The Inova Saville Center’s experts will guide you through your health risk assessment and offer you cancer prevention recommendations.

If found and treated early, skin cancer has a high recovery rate. Conducting regular visual self-exams and having a clinical examination by your provider may be good first steps in screening for skin cancer. If you find a worrisome change on your skin during a self-exam, you should schedule a screening with your provider.

What's involved in a skin cancer check?

During a skin exam, your provider checks your skin for moles, birthmarks or other pigmented areas that appear abnormal in color, size, shape or texture. Regular skin checks by a healthcare provider are particularly important for those who have already had skin cancer.

If an area of the skin appears abnormal during the clinical examination, your provider may perform a biopsy, a procedure in which a small amount of tissue is collected and studied under a microscope by a pathologist. Any cancer cells found will be determined benign (which means not cancerous) or malignant. Most melanomas can be seen by the naked eye and grow under the top layer of skin, allowing them to be found sooner.

What if I have melanoma?

If you receive a melanoma diagnosis, your provider will determine the thickness of the tumor. Based on its thickness, your provider will develop a treatment plan. In general, the thicker the tumor is, the more serious it is. Thinner melanomas may only require surgery to remove the cancer, but if the melanoma is thicker, your provider may recommend additional tests.

Your provider will discuss any possible risks of screening with you.

Am I at risk of skin cancer?

People of all skin tones can get skin cancer, although it is much less common for people with darker skin tones. Since skin cancer is less common in darker-complected individuals, it’s often diagnosed at later stages. In people with dark skin, melanoma is found more often on the feet and hands.

People who sunburn easily are more likely to get melanoma, and the risk is higher if you have had sunburn several times in your life. Shade and clothing are more effective than sunscreen at protecting your skin. Please note, sun isn’t only dangerous in the summer. Ultraviolet rays reflect upward from water, snow and sand regardless of the season. Other risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Multiple moles on the body
  • Family history and genetics
  • Lighter skin color
  • Skin that burns or freckles easily
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Other medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease

If there's a risk that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your provider could recommend a sentinel node biopsy. In this procedure, a specialist injects contrast material (sometimes called contrast “dye”) into the area where your melanoma was removed and allows the dye to flow to nearby lymph nodes. The first lymph nodes the dye reaches are then removed and tested for cancer cells. If these are cancer-free, the melanoma may not have spread beyond the area where it was first discovered. Your provider may also recommend imaging tests to look for signs that the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. These tests may include X-rays, CT scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans or VECTRA full-body scans. These generally aren't recommended for smaller melanomas with a lower risk of spreading beyond the skin.

Changing to a healthier lifestyle – regular exercise, a balanced diet – may play a part in reducing the risk of developing many types of cancer. To reduce your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers, we recommend you:

  • Limit your exposure to ultraviolet rays
  • Use sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) for prolonged periods in the sun
  • Cover your skin with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing and stay in the shade whenever possible
  • Perform regular skin exams
  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Know your family history
  • Have genetic testing done, if indicated
  • Get screened as directed by your provider