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Skin Cancer Treatment and Medicare: Benefits for Skin Cancer Patients

Just the Essentials…

  • Skin cancer affects one in five people in the United States.

  • Most skin cancer screenings are only covered if recommended by a doctor, but some Medicare Advantage plans can cover additional screenings.

  • Cancer treatment, including treatment for skin cancer, is sometimes covered under Original Medicare, though specialized Medicare Advantage plans also exist.

Does Medicare Cover Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, affecting one in five people over their lifetime. As such, regular skin cancer examinations, mole biopsies, and skin cancer treatments are critical for your long term health. Unfortunately, despite how common the condition is, treatment for skin cancer can be a bit difficult to come by.

Is That Spot Suspicious?

A potentially cancerous mole.

Skin cancer usually manifests as suspicious moles or blemishes on the skin, and can appear anywhere on the body. There are four main types of skin cancer, though other types of skin cancer exist. These are:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): A slow growing skin cancer that usually appears around the head or neck, which forms in the round cells found deep within your skin, or epidermis. Most cases of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas, and such skin cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body. Skin cancer cells typically manifest as raised, scar-like, occasionally itchy patches of skin with unusual coloration and blood vessel patterns.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): A skin cancer that forms in the flat, scale-like cells that make up most of the epidermis. This type of skin cancer usually form near the mouth, anus, vagina, or the site of a scar. 20 percent of skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, with 2-5 percent spreading to other parts of the body. This skin cancer will usually manifest as rough or scaly patches, open sores, or wart like growths.

  • Merkel Cell Carcinoma:  An aggressive skin cancer which forms in hormone producing cells just beneath the skin and in hair follicles.

  • Melanoma: The most aggressive type of skin cancer. Forms in the melanocytes, which give the skin its color.  Makes up about 1 percent of all cases. These take the form of moles with unusual symmetry, borders, and coloration, that are either abnormally large or change in form over time.

The most common risk factor for skin cancer is sun exposure, though exposure to radiation and carcinogenic substances can also be a trigger.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sunhat on display near a swimming pool.

The best way to prevent skin cancer, especially Melanoma, is to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This can be done by wearing broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapplying them regularly. Ideally, these sunscreens are applied to the entire body, even when indoors or on cloudy days. However, doing so can often be impractical, so it’s best to supplement sunscreen with other forms of sun protection.

Additionally, it is best practice to avoid other sources of UV radiation, such as tanning beds and sunlamps, as these devices can lead to overexposure and also raise your risk factor for skin cancer considerably.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Baseball caps often leave the back of the neck (a common spot for skin cancer to develop) unprotected. Try to avoid loosely woven straw caps, as these can allow sunlight through.

  • Wear comfortable, but concealing clothing. Long pants, beach coverups, and clothing rated for UV protection are all useful. The more you cover with clothing, the less you need to worry about protecting yourself with sunscreen (though you still should!).

  • Consider buying a sunscreen stick. These look like deodorant and are designed to apply a sheer layer of sunscreen to the face, head, and neck. Reapply throughout the day.

  • Stick to the shade. Consider carrying a parasol if out on a sunny day.

Skin Cancer Treatments

A dermatologist using liquid nitrogen to remove a cancerous lesion.

So, does Medicare cover Melanoma treatments? Yes and no. A dermatologist can identify any potentially cancerous lesions with an exam, but unfortunately these preventive screenings are not usually covered by Medicare. However, Medicare does cover screenings if deemed medically necessary by a doctor.  Certain Medicare Advantage plans may also cover preventive screenings for skin cancer in seniors, so check with your provider.

When caught early, skin cancer can be treated by removal of the cancerous or precancerous lesions via surgery, freezing, or chemical treatment. The intensity of the surgery varies, but is typically an outpatient procedure done under local anesthetic. More extensive treatments for skin cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and various other oncology services. 

Once you have a formal skin cancer diagnosis, Original Medicare will cover most services. Part A will cover in-patient services and hospital stays, while Part B covers outpatient services and doctors visits. Drugs and medication for skin cancer are covered under Part D, which must be enrolled in separately. 

Skin cancer is considered a qualifying condition for Special Needs Plans, which offer more extensive and specialized care aimed at treating specific conditions. If you have a formal diagnosis of skin cancer, talk with your doctor about enrolling in an SNP.

If you’re looking for a Medicare plan that can cover skin cancer treatments, we can help. Our licensed insurance agents can help you compare benefits and find a plan that works for you. Call us today at (800) 950-0608, or use our free comparison tool to begin your search today.

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