You never forget your first time: Getting a skin check

By Lorelei Mitrani, Senior Director of Special Events and Major Gifts

I started working at the Prevent Cancer Foundation back in 2016 when I was 27. Before I worked here, I had no idea that annual skin checks were a thing, at least not for people my age. No peer had ever mentioned them to me, and I don’t remember the topic coming up during any annual check-ups with my primary care doctor. I knew my dad had regular check-ups with a dermatologist and that he had previously had a few Basal cell and Squamous cell carcinomas removed (the most common types of skin cancer), but even with a known family history of skin cancer, it wasn’t something I thought about.

I would love to tell you that I immediately took this newfound knowledge, turned right around, and scheduled my first skin check, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, my story picks up more than seven years later.

Now solidly in my 30s, I know I’m not the only one who had put this off and I somehow feel both better and worse knowing just how many people can relate. The Foundation’s 2024 Early Detection Survey found that more than half of U.S. adults are not up to date on their routine skin cancer screening and 29% of U.S. adults have never had a skin check for skin cancer. Top reasons included not knowing they needed one, cost, and lack of symptoms.

What held me back mostly fell into that lack of symptoms category. I was diligent about wearing sunscreen every day, I hadn’t seen or felt anything concerning, and after having gone so long without incorporating skin checks into my annual routine, it seemed easy to ignore it — other demands on my time always took priority.

Cancer, routine screenings and early detection are daily topics of conversation topics around our office, but it wasn’t until the end of 2023 that I actually admitted to a colleague I had never had a skin check. There wasn’t any judgement, and in fact I learned they also hadn’t gotten their first check until well after joining the Foundation. I think it was their encouragement that finally helped push me into action.

I knew we had a find a doctor feature on, so that’s where I started. It took me less than 10 minutes to find a dermatologist that seemed like a good fit; she was well reviewed, took my insurance, had an opening within a month, and was only a 10-minute drive from my house.

Snapping a quick selfie in my stylish medical gown before my skin check.

When my appointment day came, I admit I was a little nervous — it’s hard not to be when you don’t know exactly what to expect. I made it to the doctor’s office 15 minutes early, filled out a few additional bits of paperwork, and waited for my name to be called. The next part was similar to any other preventive check-up I’ve had. The individual who called me back asked a few questions before providing me with a medical gown and leaving me to change, and she then returned with the doctor who performed the scheduled skin check.

My doctor was friendly and thorough during the exam, checking everywhere from the top of my head to in-between my toes. She let me know she was looking for any moles or spots that seemed suspicious and asked me if I had anything I was currently concerned about or wanted to flag for her. I mentioned a mole on my scalp that I had noticed recently as it was a little larger than some of my other moles and hard to get a good look at on my own.

The check began with the doctor asking me to lie back on the exam table and looking at skin that was easily visible and exposed (my hands, arms, face and neck) before looking through my hair at my scalp — including the spot I had mentioned to her. She asked if it had given me any pain, itching or bleeding (which it had not) and thankfully said it did not otherwise appear concerning. Next, she moved to some of the more difficult-to-see areas, moving my robe as needed and talking me through each step of the exam. I did have to flip over on the table at one point so they could check everything on the back side of my body, but otherwise, no excess movements or body contortions needed. The exam was a little awkward at points, but never uncomfortable and didn’t take too long.

When she was done, I sat upright again as we wrapped things up and discussed next steps. She said everything looked normal, to stay vigilant with my sunscreen and that she would see me next year. I left with a feeling of accomplishment plus a bunch of travel-size sunscreen samples perfect for my upcoming beach trip.

I’m glad I did it, and I will be adding skin checks into my annual wellness routine from here on out. It is recommended to start getting annual skin checks in your 20s, but there are

Don’t forget your ABCDEs.

things you can do year-round at any age to help reduce your skin cancer risk, including:

  • Always use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher with UVA and UVB protection (broad spectrum) and reapply every two hours if you stay in the sun. This goes for lip balm as well!
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure, particularly during peak sun hours. (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
  • Never use tanning beds or sun lamps.
  • Wear protective clothing, headwear and eyewear.
  • Check your skin using the ABCDE rule.

If you’ve found yourself putting off your annual skin check, or if you’re like me and never had one, I hope I can be your encouragement to take that next step and book your appointment. It feels good to know I am prioritizing my health and living the mission that I work toward on a daily basis!