How often should one get a full-body exam by a dermatologist?

Barry Leshin: A complete skin exam should be performed by a dermatologist annually. It’s quite easy to remember: get your birthday suit examined on your birthday. For individuals with a history of skin cancer, and especially for those with a history of melanoma, such an examination should be performed at six to 12 month intervals.
Lisa Donofrio: In general, all adults should have a yearly skin exam by a board-certified dermatologist. As skin experts, medically trained dermatologists can diagnose and treat disorders that affect the skin, hair, nails – including skin cancer. All skin types, ethnicities and genders are at risk. Seeing a dermatologist annually can assist in documenting changes in the skin. The earlier skin cancer is found, the easier and typically more successful the outcome.

What does a full-body exam entail?

BL: A full body exam is just that. All skin, including areas that are double covered, is examined thoroughly. While many patients are hesitant about such an examination, it can save your life.

LD: A screening is a visual inspection of the skin’s moles, freckles, lesions, growths, discolorations or any other skin abnormalities. There is nothing invasive, and no blood is drawn. Prior to the exam, the dermatologist will ask if you have any concerns or to point out any spots or changes in the skin. Patients are asked to undress so the entire body can be carefully checked. In addition to main areas of the skin, the exam will likely include scalp, mouth, ears, eyes, fingers and toes. The physician will review the skin and take notes for patient history records.

How can one closely monitor their own moles/marks?

BL: With the aid of mirrors and appropriate guidance by a dermatologist, an individual can do a thorough self-examination. However, a significant other can be an invaluable partner in this endeavor. For high-risk individuals, such as those with a history of melanoma or numerous moles, consideration of total body photography with stored images may be optimal. Your dermatologist can guide you accordingly.

LD: Monthly self-exams could save one’s life. Tools needed: A well-lit room, full-length and handheld mirrors. Visually inspect the skin for anything that looks out of the ordinary. Become familiar with birthmarks, moles or spots in order to notice if they are changing. Follow the ABDCE’s: asymmetry, border irregularity, color, diameter (greater than 6 millimeters) and evolving. Anything that is changing, itches or bleeds should be reviewed by a board-certified dermatologist. To help perform effective self-exams, ASDS offers free self-exam kits for download.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who was just diagnosed with skin cancer?

BL: Explore treatment options with a board-certified dermatologist. Once your skin cancer has been treated, be mindful of future sun exposure. Use broad spectrum sunscreen (reapplying every two hours when outside), wear sun-protective clothing, and avoid intense sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm. By all means, avoid tanning beds. See your dermatologist for regular skin examination, and be aware of new or changing skin lesions.

LD: Skin cancer can be treatable, especially with early detection. The best advice is to have open communication with one’s dermatologist. Understand the type and stage of the cancer. Not all cancers are the same nor are they treated the same. Discuss the treatment options and together determine the best course of action. And finally, practice sun-safe behaviors, such as wearing sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, to help avoid recurrence.