Everything You Need to Know About Skin Exams

One in five Amer­i­cans will be diag­nosed with skin can­cer in their life­time1. The best way to detect and treat skin can­cer ear­ly is by sched­ul­ing an annu­al skin exam­i­na­tion with your dermatologist.

A skin exam may seem intim­i­dat­ing if you don’t know what to expect. Board-cer­ti­fied Math­ew Loesch, DO, PhD, FAAD, shares tips on how to pre­pare for a skin exam, what to expect dur­ing your appoint­ment and next steps.

Sched­ul­ing your full skin exam

If you need or want to be seen by a der­ma­tol­o­gist for a full skin check, reach out to your pre­ferred loca­tion to make an appoint­ment. If you need a refer­ral from your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian, be sure that they place an order before sched­ul­ing your der­ma­tol­ogy appoint­ment. When sched­ul­ing your exam, it is impor­tant to clar­i­fy that your appoint­ment will be for a full skin exam­i­na­tion or full skin check.

Prepar­ing for your exam

Pri­or to your appoint­ment, you should self-exam­ine your skin and take note of any spots or con­cerns you would like addressed. When exam­in­ing your own skin, the ABC Method and Ugly Duck­ling tech­niques are help­ful in deter­min­ing which spots or areas of skin should be focused on dur­ing your in-office exam. This includes any areas that have changed, itched, have a burn­ing sen­sa­tion, bled for no rea­son or have not healed. A great way to keep track of a mole’s appear­ance is to take pho­tos of the same spot over time. These pho­tos are great to share with your der­ma­tol­o­gist at your appointment. 

Anoth­er way to pre­pare for your appoint­ment is to make a note of any past skin con­di­tions, the treat­ments per­formed and your fam­i­ly his­to­ry of skin can­cer. Before arriv­ing to your appoint­ment, it is rec­om­mend­ed that you remove all make­up and nail pol­ish before your appoint­ment. This will help our der­ma­tol­o­gists exam­ine your skin fully. 

Dur­ing your exam

At the exam, you will be asked to put on a med­ical gown. When you are ready, your der­ma­tol­o­gist will enter and intro­duce him/​herself. Dur­ing this time, it is impor­tant to dis­cuss pre­vi­ous skin con­di­tions and areas you would like reviewed more close­ly dur­ing the exam. Also, be sure to men­tion whether or not you have a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of skin cancer.

Your der­ma­tol­o­gist will begin the exam and cov­er all areas of your skin and hair, from the top of your head to the bot­tom of your feet. Dur­ing the exam, a spe­cial­ized mag­ni­fied glass and light may be used to bet­ter observe sus­pi­cious spots or places you expressed con­cern for dur­ing your introduction.

A sus­pi­cious spot

If your der­ma­tol­o­gist is sus­pi­cious about a spot on your skin, he/​she may con­sid­er per­form­ing a skin biop­sy in order to test for a cer­tain skin con­di­tion or dis­ease. Per­form­ing a biop­sy allows for a der­matopathol­o­gist, a spe­cial­ized physi­cian trained in skin pathol­o­gy, to exam­ine the mole under a micro­scope and deter­mine if it is benign or cancerous.

To per­form the biop­sy, they will inject a numb­ing anes­thet­ic direct­ly into the area under and around the spot in ques­tion and either per­form a shave or punch biop­sy. A shave biop­sy, the most com­mon­ly used tech­nique, is used for super­fi­cial lesions like a sus­pi­cious mole and removes a thin disk of tis­sue that can be test­ed for can­cer cells. A punch biop­sy is used for lesions that require a deep­er inci­sion in order to extract a larg­er sample.

Oth­er times, a der­ma­tol­o­gist might choose to watch and make note of the sus­pi­cious spot and re-exam­ine for changes at your next skin check. 

Next steps

If a biop­sy was per­formed, heal­ing will depend on the size and depth of the biop­sy, where it was locat­ed and oth­er med­ical con­di­tions you may have. In gen­er­al, most biop­sy sites heal with­in two to three weeks. Biop­sies are processed and read in one to two weeks and your der­ma­tol­o­gist or a nurse will con­tact you with the results. 

If the spot was found to be benign, no fol­low-up is need­ed until your next annu­al skin exam. If the spot was found to be abnor­mal, your der­ma­tol­o­gist or a nurse will con­tact you to dis­cuss next steps pend­ing the pathol­o­gy report.

If you are ready to take the next step in detect­ing and treat­ing skin can­cer ear­ly, sched­ule an appoint­ment with a der­ma­tol­o­gist online or call your pre­ferred location.

1Skin Can­cer Facts & Sta­tis­tics (2021, Jan­u­ary 13). In Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.skin​cancer​.org/ski…

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