The mirror doesn't lie, but it doesn't tell the whole truth either. No matter how you twist and turn, it's hard to see all your nooks and crannies, even if you want to (and many would rather forgo that treat, in any case). Still, to avoid skin cancer, you really do want a trained professional to do a yearly skin cancer screening—taking a careful squint at every inch of you, including your scalp and backside—to identify suspicious moles or growths.
Skin cancer is almost always curable if caught early, yet each year more than 10,000 people die of the disease. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is also the fastest growing. It afflicts 60,000 people annually and causes 8,000 deaths.
But help is literally on the way. Throughout the spring and summer, the Skin Cancer Foundation is sending an RV fitted with two exam rooms to more than 50 cities across the United States, offering free skin cancer screenings by volunteer dermatologists.
In case you've never had a screening, I asked Rutledge Forney, a dermatologist in Atlanta, what to expect. Forney volunteered last year on the Skin Cancer Foundation's "Road to Healthy Skin" inaugural tour and participated when the RV rolled through Atlanta a few weeks ago.
In the examining room, you strip down, and then the dermatologist uses a lighted magnifier to scrutinize every inch of skin (though you can opt out of having your private parts examined if you wish). "We're on the alert for a mole with differences in color or irregular edges, anything that's changing on the body," says Forney. The whole process takes just three to five minutes, depending on how many spots you have that need examining. If the dermatologist finds anything suspicious, she circles the area and refers the patient to a local dermatologist.
Last year, nearly 7,000 people visited the RV for educational information or sunscreen samples, and dermatologists screened more than 3,000. They identified 39 suspected cases of melanoma.
If you can't make it to a free screening, any dermatologist can perform one for you. Check out our earlier story about 8 ways to spot skin cancer.