Your Step-by-Step Skin Exam Guide (...psst.. it's not scary!)
Never had a skin exam? Think is sounds scary and awkward?
Fear no more! Theresa, our resident skin expert shares step-by-step what you can expect during a skin exam.
Theresa Helsel, PA Dermatologist
As a Dermatology PA and an avid endurance athlete, I work hard to bridge the gap between what would seem like two very different worlds. I will never make a patient feel bad or guilty for hobbies and interests that take them outside. I simply encourage them to do the best they can with sun protection and, at the very least, obtain a skin check once a year.
So, I have friends who feel some anxiety about having their skin checked and I suspect they are not alone. Allow me to walk you through what to expect…
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE A SKIN EXAM?
To prepare for a skin check, try to arrive with as little on your skin as possible. This means:
NO tinted moisturizer
NO nail polish
All of these items can cover up areas where there could be potential skin cancer.
HOW LONG DOES THE FULL EXAM TAKE?
A thorough skin check will usually take between 10-15 minutes.
WHAT SKIN AREAS GET CHECKED DURING AN EXAM?
You will be asked to change into a paper gown or drape and you will have the option of leaving on your underwear.
Generally, we start on the scalp and work our way down. We will evaluate everywhere skin is found, including the inside of the mouth and between the toes. I will ask my patient if they have any concerns with examining their genital area and if a patient doesn’t feel comfortable, I won’t check there. However, I always recommend patients perform self-exams and especially in the case of melanoma, it can affect anywhere on your skin even if the skin hasn’t had any sun exposure.
ARE THERE ANY MEDICAL TOOLS INVOLVED IN THE EXAM?
I will use a handheld dermatosope to help illuminate and magnify skin lesions to get a closer look of what is taking place on your skin.
Also, I will audibly call out lesions which may sound a little foreign to patients, but we do this so we can chart exactly where your spots are and when you come in for subsequent visits we have records to compare it to.
What’s a dermatoscope? A device that allows for inspection of skin lesions unobstructed by skin surface reflections.
WHAT IF SOMETHING SUSPICIOUS IS FOUND?
If a lesion looks suspicious or looks a little different, I may choose to do one of two things:
- Observe the lesion by taking a photo or measuring it and have you come back in a few months time to see if it’s changed over time.
- If there are a lot of red flags and areas for concern I may opt to biopsy. This depends on what is observed and the history obtained from the patient.
A biopsy typically involves numbing the skin with an injection of lidocaine or similar local anesthesia and removing the suspicious lesion by shaving or removing a small plug of skin.
Theresa performing a lesion removal surgery.
AND THAT'S A WRAP!
We will conclude by reviewing the visit, answering patient questions, and discuss possible ways to step up sun protection if needed.
It is recommended to have your skin screened yearly for skin cancer.