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Winter is here and the days are short. It may not be foremost on your mind, but checking for skin cancer should still be a part of your routine. If you notice any changes in your skin, talk with your primary care physician.

“About a million people in the U.S. are getting skin cancer each year,” says Nelson Goldberg, M.D., a surgeon specializing in plastic surgery and surgical oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Dr. Goldberg presented a lecture on skin cancer and biopsies at Sinai Hospital’s Grand Rounds. “You have a one in three chance of getting skin cancer before you die,” he says.

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Most cases of skin cancer – the basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma types – are nonfatal, Dr. Goldberg says. Malignant melanoma skin cancer can be fatal, though not always. Early detection and treatment is advised but biopsies are not always warranted, he says.

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Doctors look for certain symptoms before requesting a skin biopsy. Those symptoms include bleeding or crusting of the area. When a biopsy is performed, a piece of the skin is removed for further examination and skin cancer can be diagnosed or ruled out.

“It is not uncommon for patients to ignore skin cancer if it is not bothering them,” Dr. Goldberg says. But small changes can grow into large, disfiguring ones. “It is better to get them off when they are small,” Dr. Goldberg says.

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