A skin check is an important part of your melanoma prevention checklist. If you’ve never had a skin check before this will help you frame your expectations for the visit. The earlier you find a skin cancer, the easier it is to treat successfully. Both skin self-examinations and professional skin exams are useful for early detection of skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Dermatologists have special training that includes the diagnosis and management of skin cancers. When you see a dermatologist for a complete skin checkup, expect a 10-15-minute visit, including a review of your medical history and a head-to-toe skin examination.
For a full body, head-to-toe exam, you will be asked to remove your clothes and sometimes undergarments, in exchange for a gown. On average, your full body skin exam will take approximately 10 minutes, sometimes longer if your skin tends to have more moles. In most cases the doctor will use a hand-held dermatoscope, which looks like a flashlight, to magnify and illuminate the layers of your skin. This will allow them to get a closer look at your skin.
The doctor may start with your scalp, carefully moving your hair around to gain a closer look. Believe it or not, “hidden melanomas” are often found in unexpected areas like the scalp, behind the ears, soles of the feet, under nails, palms of the hands and the groin area. For this reason, you should expect the dermatologist to inspect every inch of your body, which will include beneath your underwear if you were permitted to leave any on under your gown. A medical assistant may join the dermatologist during your exam to help ensure everything is properly documented in your medical record. Photographs may be taken and securely stored in your medical chart to use as a comparative at future visits. This is a good time to ask about any spots you are worried about; your dermatologist can educate you about what to look for, such as any changes in the size, color, borders, or shape of a mole.
Your dermatologist may identify an area that requires treatment and will generally take care any minor procedure right after completing your skin exam. The two most common treatments are:
Cryotherapy– A quick spray of liquid nitrogen which is used to freeze and destroy skin growths or patches that do not look like the skin around them. Ask your doctor for their post-treatment recommendations and follow up protocol.
Skin biopsy- A sample of skin will be removed and sent to a laboratory for further examination under a microscope, to diagnose or rule out any diseases of the skin. There are a few ways to perform a biopsy and some may require stitches. Ask your doctor why a biopsy is being done and which procedure they will be using. Be sure to understand any post-procedure recommendations and follow up expectations. You should also inquire when and how your biopsy results will be provided to you. Results are typically available within 7-10 days.
Before your doctor leaves the room, ask them what your follow up schedule is based on their discoveries during your exam. Your doctor may talk to you about your skin cancer risk factors which are derived from your lifestyle, personal history and the results of your exam. Understand your follow up recommendations and instructions before your dermatologist leaves the room. Depending on your results, your doctor may recommend more frequent exams. At a minimum, you should schedule your next annual skin check prior to leaving the doctor’s office and ask them to mail you a reminder card. Make your annual skin check a priority because early detection is a key factor when it comes to skin.
Dr. Cynthia Bailey of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology Physicians, has provided information on what to expect during your skin check. This helpful advice will guide you through your appointment and make you feel empowered when you get to your next skin check visit.