Everything You Need to Know About Skin Exams

One in five Amer­i­cans will be diag­nosed with skin can­cer in their life­time1. The best way to detect and treat skin can­cer ear­ly is by sched­ul­ing an annu­al skin exam­i­na­tion with your dermatologist.

A skin exam may seem intim­i­dat­ing if you don’t know what to expect. Board-cer­ti­fied Math­ew Loesch, DO, PhD, FAAD, shares tips on how to pre­pare for a skin exam, what to expect dur­ing your appoint­ment and next steps.

Sched­ul­ing your full skin exam

If you need or want to be seen by a der­ma­tol­o­gist for a full skin check, reach out to your pre­ferred loca­tion to make an appoint­ment. If you need a refer­ral from your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian, be sure that they place an order before sched­ul­ing your der­ma­tol­ogy appoint­ment. When sched­ul­ing your exam, it is impor­tant to clar­i­fy that your appoint­ment will be for a full skin exam­i­na­tion or full skin check.

Prepar­ing for your exam

Pri­or to your appoint­ment, you should self-exam­ine your skin and take note of any spots or con­cerns you would like addressed. When exam­in­ing your own skin, the ABC Method and Ugly Duck­ling tech­niques are help­ful in deter­min­ing which spots or areas of skin should be focused on dur­ing your in-office exam. This includes any areas that have changed, itched, have a burn­ing sen­sa­tion, bled for no rea­son or have not healed. A great way to keep track of a mole’s appear­ance is to take pho­tos of the same spot over time. These pho­tos are great to share with your der­ma­tol­o­gist at your appointment. 

Anoth­er way to pre­pare for your appoint­ment is to make a note of any past skin con­di­tions, the treat­ments per­formed and your fam­i­ly his­to­ry of skin can­cer. Before arriv­ing to your appoint­ment, it is rec­om­mend­ed that you remove all make­up and nail pol­ish before your appoint­ment. This will help our der­ma­tol­o­gists exam­ine your skin fully. 

Dur­ing your exam

At the exam, you will be asked to put on a med­ical gown. When you are ready, your der­ma­tol­o­gist will enter and intro­duce him/​herself. Dur­ing this time, it is impor­tant to dis­cuss pre­vi­ous skin con­di­tions and areas you would like reviewed more close­ly dur­ing the exam. Also, be sure to men­tion whether or not you have a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of skin cancer.

Your der­ma­tol­o­gist will begin the exam and cov­er all areas of your skin and hair, from the top of your head to the bot­tom of your feet. Dur­ing the exam, a spe­cial­ized mag­ni­fied glass and light may be used to bet­ter observe sus­pi­cious spots or places you expressed con­cern for dur­ing your introduction.

A sus­pi­cious spot

If your der­ma­tol­o­gist is sus­pi­cious about a spot on your skin, he/​she may con­sid­er per­form­ing a skin biop­sy in order to test for a cer­tain skin con­di­tion or dis­ease. Per­form­ing a biop­sy allows for a der­matopathol­o­gist, a spe­cial­ized physi­cian trained in skin pathol­o­gy, to exam­ine the mole under a micro­scope and deter­mine if it is benign or cancerous.

To per­form the biop­sy, they will inject a numb­ing anes­thet­ic direct­ly into the area under and around the spot in ques­tion and either per­form a shave or punch biop­sy. A shave biop­sy, the most com­mon­ly used tech­nique, is used for super­fi­cial lesions like a sus­pi­cious mole and removes a thin disk of tis­sue that can be test­ed for can­cer cells. A punch biop­sy is used for lesions that require a deep­er inci­sion in order to extract a larg­er sample.

Oth­er times, a der­ma­tol­o­gist might choose to watch and make note of the sus­pi­cious spot and re-exam­ine for changes at your next skin check. 

Next steps

If a biop­sy was per­formed, heal­ing will depend on the size and depth of the biop­sy, where it was locat­ed and oth­er med­ical con­di­tions you may have. In gen­er­al, most biop­sy sites heal with­in two to three weeks. Biop­sies are processed and read in one to two weeks and your der­ma­tol­o­gist or a nurse will con­tact you with the results. 

If the spot was found to be benign, no fol­low-up is need­ed until your next annu­al skin exam. If the spot was found to be abnor­mal, your der­ma­tol­o­gist or a nurse will con­tact you to dis­cuss the next steps pend­ing the pathol­o­gy report.

If you have any skin con­cerns or are due for your annu­al full-body skin exam, sched­ule an appoint­ment online with a der­ma­tol­o­gist near you or by call­ing your pre­ferred loca­tion.

Annu­al full body skin exams are now cov­ered as a pre­ven­ta­tive exam by most com­mer­cial insur­ance com­pa­nies. Cost varies based on your insur­ance coverage.*

*Medicare and Med­ic­aid are excluded

1Skin Can­cer Facts & Sta­tis­tics (2021, Jan­u­ary 13). In Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.skin​cancer​.org/ski…

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  • Mathew Loesch, DO, Lombard Dermatologist

    One of the great opportunities and privileges in life is to employ one’s passion and talent to benefit others and I take that mindset into every patient encounter. Knowing that every patient is unique, I believe it is critical to take the time to get to know, listen, and discuss with each patient, so we can work together actively to best address and meet their needs and goals.