Why should I have a Full Body Exam?
Dermatologists are specially trained in detecting skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Most skin cancers are highly treatable, especially when they’re caught early, so having skin cancer screenings is an important part of your healthcare routine.
Full body skin exams are an important part of skin cancer detection and prevention. Those with risk factors for skin cancer (fair skin, heavy sun exposure, family history of cancers, multiple moles), should have full body skin exams at least yearly. Those that have had skin cancer may require checks every 3-6 months.
Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, has an excellent prognosis when detected and treated early. Furthermore, approximately one-half of melanomas develop from a pre-existing spot, so skin checks are intended not only to detect new spots but also to monitor current ones for a change.
How do I know if I’m at risk?
Annual skin exams may be recommended for anyone who:
- Has a history of melanoma, other skin cancers or precancerous skin lesions.
- Has a first-degree relative who has had melanoma.
- Has a large number of moles or a history of atypical moles.
- Has a history of tanning bed use.
- Has a history of blistering sun burns.
- Has a history of significant regular sun exposure through activities such as boating or living in a sunny location, or occupations such as landscaping or construction.
- Is an organ transplant recipient.
What should I expect during the exam?
Your appointment will involve a thorough examination of your skin — from the top of your scalp to the bottoms of your feet. Typically the doctor will start in your hair, paying close attention to the ears, nose, and back of the neck since those are common areas for excess sun exposure. We will look for suspicious spots that could be cancerous. At the appointment we’ll ask some questions about your history of sun exposure, sunburns, etc. and ask if any specific moles or other spots have been worrying you.
If you have a lot of suspicious moles, Dr. Gray may want to document them with a photograph. The photograph is securely stored in your medical chart so that the size and nature of any moles can be compared at future visits.
As the doctor is performing the exam he might identify an area that needs treatment. After discussing the diagnosis and treatment with you, he will generally take care of the minor procedures right then and there. The two most common treatments are:
- Cryotherapy – A quick spray of liquid nitrogen is used to remove lesions that sit on the surface of the skin (for example, pre-cancerous actinic keratosis)
- Skin biopsy – A small sample of a suspicious lesion is removed under local anesthetic. It is then sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope to determine if further treatment is needed.