Along with a complete physical, it is recommended to get a thorough body check at least once a year. However, if you have a history of skin cancer, your dermatologist may want to see you every 3 or 6 months. Frequent body checks are very important but only as good as the Dermatologist performing them. There are 8 things to expect during your body check.
1. Get comfortable. In order to evaluate the skin thoroughly, your dermatologist will most likely recommend you disrobe down to your undergarments. It is very important to remove your socks as skin cancers are sometimes found hidden on or under toe-nails, the soles of your feet and lower legs. The Nurse or Medical Assistant should give you proper instructions along with a gown for your comfort.
2. Let there be light! Your Dermatologist will take advantage of overhead lights while moving them around to examine various parts of your body. This lighting is specifically designed to show the skin and highlight possible lesions or irregularities.
3. Hidden Places. Skin cancers are not only found in sun-exposed areas. A proper and complete body check consists of checking ALL areas. This includes your buttock, genitals, breasts and scalp. It is becoming more common to find HPV related skin cancers in the genitals or buttock along with irregular moles in these hidden areas. Your dermatologist should alert you prior to removing your under-garments that he/she is going to examine these areas.
4. Using your senses. Quite often, skin cancers and skin conditions have a certain feel to them. Most skin cancers feel rough before they turn into a visible bump, become red or change in shape. A good body check involves visual inspection along with touching and feeling the skin. Your dermatologist may run his/her hands along your skin in order to palpate early skin cancers or a change in texture to the skin.
5. Bare skin is the best skin. In order to see a change or developing skin lesion, it is best to come without makeup or bronzer on your skin; particularly if you have a history of skin cancer on your face. You should always come to the office with a clean face or ask your nurse for a cleanser to unveil possible lesions. If you have to go back to work or have an event, bring your makeup for a touch-up once your exam is complete.
6. It is a partnership. You know your skin better than anyone and having a 50/50 partnership with your Dermatologist is key. The first sign of any malignancy is a change in the skin. Get to know every inch of your body and bring these changes to your Dermatologist’s attention. You should point out any new lesions, rough patches, change in previously examined lesions or tender areas that might bleed or do not heal. A complete history is also important when dealing with other skin conditions, allergic reactions and rashes. Your input plays a large role in a proper diagnosis.
7. You might need a biopsy. If your dermatologist suspects a possible malignancy or difficult-to-diagnose skin condition, a biopsy might be warranted. Your Dermatologist should point out any suspicious lesions and ask you further questions about it in order to determine if a biopsy is indicated. A skin biopsy is the removal of a small portion of the suspected spot that is sent to a lab and processed in usually 4-7 days. The area is numbed locally with an anesthetic and then covered with a band-aid. It is important to follow the after-care instructions given by your Nurse, especially when having a biopsy below the knee.
8. You don’t have to wait a year. Perhaps a bad Derm-joke, but sometimes things do just “pop-up!”. Quite often, we see patients who had a recent skin exam return before their yearly check with a new concern. It’s ok. If you are concerned, it is important to get evaluated promptly for answers. Anxiety puts unnecessary stress on your body and can lower your immune system. If you’re concerned, call!
It is important to note, just like the heart, lungs, and kidney’s, your skin is an organ. In fact, it is the largest organ in your body. It is living and breathing as much as everything else and because it is the only visible organ, it is often used to diagnose many conditions and diseases. Choose your dermatologist wisely. You should see a dermatologist who not only understands the value in the partnership you have, but is experienced and Board Certified in dermatology.