Why an Annual Skin Exam is Important

March 28, 2019
By: Center for Dermatology & Plastic Surgery

Why An Annual Skin Exam Is Important

You get your car inspected every year, but what about your skin?  As the largest and most exposed organ on the body, humans should have it checked annually—and it only takes about 20 minutes!  What a time saver and potential life saver.   

So, what should you expect at an annual skin exam? 

First, take note if you have any moles or skin marks that have changed over the last year.  This is your homework assignment before you see your dermatologist.  And don’t be shy in pointing out anything that you are concerned about.  Now is the time to tell your doctor. 

Your dermatologist will do a head-to-toe exam and make note of any spots or marks or moles that need closer monitoring.  Screenings typically cover your scalp, face, mouth, hands, feet, extremities, eyes, ears, toes, fingers—basically everything outside of your private areas.  But if you have something there that is worrying please point it out!  A moment of awkward can mean the difference of catching skin cancer early when it is more easily treated vs. when it is advanced.  Melanoma (skin cancer) can appear where the “sun doesn’t shine.” 

Your doctor may look at any unusual spots with a dermatoscope, which looks like a combination of a magnifying glass and flashlight. This allows your doctor to better examine moles that are hard to see with the naked eye. 

So, the exam is done, but your doctor finds something suspicious- what next?

If you dermatologist finds a suspicious mole or spot, they may suggest it be monitored over time and take photos for future comparison. Another approach your doctor may take is to do a quick biopsy of the area.  Biopsies involve numbing the area around the spot with a local anesthetic then scraping a small sample to be analyzed.  Sometimes a doctor will do a deeper biopsy called a “punch” biopsy that removes a deeper layer of skin for testing.  It takes about 7 to 10 days to get the results back. 

Cancer of the skin is the most common type of cancer and much more prevalent in white people.  An annual exam and taking care of your skin are the best preventive measures.