Why Is A Skin Exam Important?

If you have numerous moles, a history of skin cancer, or any other risk factors for melanoma, it is important to see your health care provider at least annually for regular skin examinations, and possibly more frequently if your doctor recommends it. Dermatologists have special training that includes the diagnosis and management of skin cancers and are the most appropriate healthcare provider to see, especially if you have any melanoma risk factors. If it’s not possible to see a dermatologist, make sure your healthcare provider has experience with melanoma.

A thorough skin exam should be performed while you are unclothed and should include an inspection from scalp to toes. Although a full-body skin exam performed by another person—even a doctor—may be uncomfortable for some, this type of exam is crucial to the early detection of melanoma.

Full body exams may seem to be a simple routine, but they are a critical piece of preventative health care. A full-body exam could potentially save your life.

What Is a Full Body Skin Exam?

A full-body exam, or melanoma screening, is best performed by a healthcare provider who has experience with melanoma. It’s performed in an effort to identify suspicious spots or growths that have the markings of melanoma. Many people believe that full-body exams are simple check-ups, but a full-body exam is much more than that: A skin examination by your doctor involves a thorough and systematic examination of all areas of the skin to see if any moles or lesions are suspicious for melanoma. Since melanoma can develop in the genital and buttocks areas, those areas should also be checked unless you ask your doctor not to do so.

To help you and your doctor stay alert to any changes in your moles or lesions, your doctor may also take photographs or measurements of selected areas of the body or of the total body. These photographs or measurements are then used as references for follow-up examinations. This approach is particularly useful if you have numerous pigmented moles or lesions. At many medical centers, you can have pictures taken of your entire body.

What To Expect During A Full Body Skin Exam

While every appointment will be slightly different, the following is what to expect at a typical full-body skin exam. When contacting your doctor, make sure you note that the appointment is for a full-body skin exam so that the scheduler can arrange for the appropriate amount of appointment time.

  • When you arrive, you’ll be asked for your medical history and shown to an exam room. Because some healthcare providers will only give a full-body skin exam where the patient is unclothed by request, you should request such an exam. You would then remove your clothes and put on a medical exam gown.
  • Your doctor will ask if you have any moles or spots on your skin that concern you.
  • Then the doctor will observe your skin, from your scalp to the bottom of your feet—and everywhere in between. If your doctor performs only a waist-up exam, inform him/her that you would like a complete skin exam.
  • During the screening, your doctor will observe the skin, noting any spots that need monitoring or further examination, and recording the location, size, and color of any moles.
  • Depending on the size, color, and location of the growth, a dermatoscope—an instrument that’s essentially a combination of a magnifying glass and a flashlight—may be used in order to get a closer look at the spot. A dermatoscope allows the doctor to examine moles, freckles, or spots that are too difficult to see with the naked eye.
  • Your doctor may also take notes about or pictures of any moles or lesions that s/he wants to monitor. S/he will use these at your next appointment for comparison.
  • After the full-body exam takes place, your doctor will discuss the next steps. If a suspicious growth was identified, the next step may include a biopsy and a follow-up appointment. If no suspicious growths were identified, you should perform monthly self-examinations to monitor your skin for any changes or new growths until your next appointment.