What To Expect During A Skin Exam

Medical Advice Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider. Never disregard medical advice or delay care because of something you have read in this content.

Dr. Beth Goldstein, a dermatologist and the founder of Modern Ritual was the interview subject of this content.

When Do You Need A Skin Check?

Individuals without skin cancer risk factors who have an established primary care provider (PCP) may get a skin check done by their PCP, rather than a dermatologist.

Dr. Goldstein’s list of primary risk factors include:

  • Many moles
  • Several moles greater than the size of a pencil eraser
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer
  • Tanning bed use
  • Suppressed immune system (from medications or chronic disease)
  • New or changing moles
  • Non-healing sores or spots on the skin after 4 weeks

It’s not recommended to do your own skin checks or have them done by non-medical personnel. Providers are able to check the full body (including the groin, back, and scalp) thoroughly. They are also able to recognize the difference between a benign mole, a suspicious mole, and a potentially cancerous mole.

What Do Providers Wish Patients Knew About Skin Checks?

Dr. Goldstein had several tips for patients getting a skin check:

  1. Avoid wearing makeup. This can cover up spots that need to be checked
  2. If you have a concerning spot on your skin, circle it the day before or the day of the exam. This will help you locate the mole and monitor changes in its size
  3. Be aware that you will be checked head to toe. This will mean you will be undressed in a medical gown.
  4. Avoid nail polish. This can obstruct potential suspicious spots near the nail beds.
  5. Clear your schedule. Ideally, a suspicious spot will be biopsied or possibly removed that day, which may take additional time.
  6. Gather your medical documents prior to the appointment. Bring a list of your medications, allergies, and family history of skin cancer. If you’ve had previous atypical moles, bring documentation about those reports and biopsies.
  7. Bring any skin treatments. If you’re using medications for your skin, bring those to your appointment so your dermatologist can check and document them.

What If Something Suspicious Is Found?

If something suspicious is found, a dermatologist will take a close-up photo of it with a device called a dermatoscope. If a biopsy is necessary, it will likely be done that day or during a visit shortly after. For a biopsy, a numbing medicine will be injected with a small needle so you won’t feel the procedure.

There are instances where just a small piece of the lesion is needed for testing, but other times it will need to be fully removed. There are instances where you may need a stitch or a few stitches. The stitches will usually be removed after about a week.

Prepare For Your Next Skin Exam

Ask your medical provider what an appropriate skin check regimen is for you. Many providers recommend that individuals get a baseline check in their early 20’s, and continue to get checked annually, depending on their risk factors. However, this may depend on your personal and family history.

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