Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Skin Cancer Screening (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 03/05/2014

Risks of Skin Cancer Screening



Screening tests have risks.

Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.

The risks of skin cancer screening tests include the following:

Finding skin cancer does not always improve health or help you live longer.

Screening may not improve your health or help you live longer if you have advanced skin cancer.

Some cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but if found by a screening test, the cancer may be treated. Treatments for cancer may have serious side effects.

False-negative test results can occur.

Screening test results may appear to be normal even though cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay getting medical care even if there are symptoms.

False-positive test results can occur.

Screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn't) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by more tests (such as a biopsy), which also have risks.

A biopsy may cause scarring.

When a skin biopsy is done, the doctor will try to leave the smallest scar possible, but there is a risk of scarring and infection.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for skin cancer and your need for screening tests.