Full body skin exams are an important part of health maintenance. Skin cancers cause significant morbidity and mortality if not caught early. Most skin cancers are treatable if caught early. I recommend everyone have a baseline full body skin exam to determine risk of skin cancer and to review good skin care habits.
The first thing that will happen during your skin check is a review of your medical history. Contrary to popular belief, dermatologists are actual doctors and need to know your medical history. Please come with your list of medications and allergies handy. Also, please bring in any dermatologic medications you have been using.
Next, you will change into one of those fashionable gowns. Get undressed to your comfort level. I often ask patients to leave their underwear on but remove their bra if they are unsure of their comfort level.
My first question for patients is often "do you have any concerns?" Don't hesitate to bring up any moles or spots that are new, changing, bleeding or hurting. Often times patients are very in tune with their own skin and can pick out irregularities fairly well. If you have other skin problems, such as rashes or acne, it can be difficult for a dermatologist to address everything in one visit. A thorough skin check should take up most of the visit, leaving little time for additional skin concerns. Don't hesitate to schedule a seperate appointment for that pesky acne or eczema, where the doctor can focus on just that problem.
A dermatologist will check your skin from head to toe, making note of any spots that need monitoring or further treatment. Many dermatologists will use a lighted magnifier called a dermatoscope to view moles and spots closely. These devices assist the dermatologist in determining if a mole or spot is normal or abnormal.
Dermatologists will point out spots and explain what they are. Don't hesitate to ask questions about specific spots. It is difficult for a dermatologist to explain every single spot and I don't always stop and discuss spots that are normal. Dermatologists will also go over what to look for in your moles and may photograph moles that are in need of monitoring.
Some dermatologists do a full-body exam in every sense of the phrase, including genital and perianal skin. Others address these areas only if a patient specifically requests them. If you've noted any concerning spots in this area, raise them. Don't let a few minutes of awkwardness prevent you from catching skin cancer early, when it's most easily treated.
If the dermatologist finds a concerning spot on your skin, a biopsy will likely be done that same day. A biopsy involves numbing the area with an injection of anesthesia, followed by a shaving or scraping of the spot. The specimen will then be sent to the dermatopathologist for evaluation. Results are communicated via phone within 10-14 days. If the spot is abnormal, it may require further removal in the dermatologists office.
During your skin check, your doctor will talk to you about your risk of skin cancer, as well as healthy skin habits, including sun avoidance and sun protection. Your doctor also will discuss with you when you need another skin exam, based on your personal history and the results of this skin exam.
Please make sure to schedule your full body skin check with a board certified dermatologist, as they undergo years of training in skin cancer screenings. Remember, a skin cancer screening could save your life.