Skin Exams and Why You May Need One

As weather warms up and you don your swimsuits, hopefully you will be checking your skin for any new “spots” that weren’t there last swim season.  The good thing about skin cancer is you can see it growing or changing right in front of you, so take the time to look.You should be checking for any new moles that look di­fferent from your others in color, shape, size or border. If you are older than 40, any new growths should probably be checked even if they don’t look that unusual. You should also take note of any new or changing red or pink spots, especially if they scab over, recurrently get scaly, bleed or feel itchy or tender.

02J73080If you do have a spot of concern, what is the next step? Call your doctor and have it checked. You should call and request an appointment for a “changing lesion of concern.” If your dermatologist or other doctor suspects the lesion may be a skin cancer or abnormal mole, they will probably recommend a biopsy. This may sound scary, but it is really a very simple, minimally painful procedure that could save your life. They will ‡first numb the lesion with a very small shot of lidocaine. A‰ er the numbing shot, you will not feel the subsequent removal of a small piece of skin containing the lesion — either a shave biopsy, where they remove a few layers of skin with a blade, or a punch biopsy where they remove a “core” of skin and put in one to two stitches to close it. ­

The specimen will be sent to a pathology lab and checked. When you get the results back, a representative of the doctor’s office will talk to you about the diagnosis and possible treatment options. The good news is that even if you have a skin cancer, if caught early, almost all skin cancers are curable. So don’t delay in having that suspicious spot examined, and check out the birthday suit of your loved ones to make sure they don’t need an appointment, too.
If you don’t have any new or suspicious lesions, but have had years of sun exposure, tanning bed use, sunburns as a child (or adult), have a history of previous skin cancer, or have numerous moles, you may need a full body skin exam. This involves going in to your dermatologist and getting fully undressed (some may allow you to leave undergarments on), and having all of your skin checked, from scalp to toenails. Many dermatologists will use a special light or magnifying device to check your moles and spots, and the exam should take 10 to 20 minutes.

During the exam, feel free to ask the doctor about any lesions on your skin that you are unsure about, or ask them to tell you what certain spots are. Many people have benign skin growths, such as “hemangiomas” or “seborrheic keratoses,” and it is reassuring to know that they are benign. If your dermatologist spots something suspicious, he or she will let you know and probably recommend a biopsy. If the lesion is a pre-cancer, it may simply be removed by freezing it with liquid nitrogen.

Either way, having an exam and removal of anything suspicious is minimally uncomfortable and may save your life, so don’t be afraid to have your skin examined.

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