What to expect for your first skin exam

Our skin is our body’s largest organ, but we often ignore the signs that something is wrong—like a funny-looking mole—or turn to Dr. Google to self-diagnose a persistent rash.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Fortunately, it is one of the most treatable types of cancer with early detection and early diagnosis. Routine skin examinations are one of the best preventive screening tests in the fight against skin cancer.

So if you’ve been putting off going to the dermatologist’s office for a skin exam, now is the time to make an appointment. Here’s what to expect during your dermatologist appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

Medical history
Your dermatologist will begin by discussing your medical history, focusing on your skin. Questions may include:

Do you have a history of skin cancer?
Have you had your marks removed and why?
How often did you suffer from sunburn as a child?
How often are you in the sun?
Have you used a tanning bed? If so, how often?
Do you use sun protection and sunscreen?
Do you have a family history of skin cancer?

If your visit was prompted by a mole change, expect to be asked about any changes in color, texture, and size, when those changes occurred, and if you have any pain, itching, bleeding, or tenderness. The most worrisome symptoms are bleeding or itchy moles, rapidly growing or changing moles, sores that don’t heal or often peel, and persistent rashes.

What happens during a skin exam?
After the history is taken, you will be offered a gown to wear during the exam. Your dermatologist will perform a thorough examination of your skin, including your scalp, face, neck, trunk, arms, legs, and hands. Dermatologists may also examine the genital area at the patient’s discretion. An ophthalmological examination is recommended to check freckles in the eyes.

A skin exam to check for moles is to assess for skin cancer and atypical moles. If you want to discuss other skin conditions such as acne and eczema, anti-aging concerns or cosmetic procedures, you may need to make a separate appointment.

Do you need to bring photos to your dermatology appointment?
You do not need to bring photos to the exam, but if you have photos that document the change in the lesion, they may be helpful. Whole body photography can be done in patients with a significant number of moles as it is a useful way to monitor any new or changing moles.

Routines to adopt at any age for lifelong healthy skin

Questions to ask your doctor about your skin
Don’t be afraid to ask your dermatologist during your visit. Here are some helpful questions I welcome from my patients:

What should I look for in moles?
When should I come for a skin check and how often?
What are the most alarming signs that something is wrong?
How can I be safe in the sun?
What happens during a skin cancer screening?

Skin cancer can occur in anyone and can occur regardless of sun exposure and sunburn. It is important that every patient, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, be checked regularly for changing skin lesions. Skin cancers in people of color can occur in non-exposed areas, such as the genitals and feet, and can potentially be more aggressive and difficult to treat if not detected early enough.

It’s never too early to start thinking about taking care of your skin, whether it’s using moisturizers in the winter for dry skin or sunscreen and sun protection. Our goal is to prevent skin cancer. But rest assured, there are many exciting new and effective treatments in the fight against skin cancer. Remember, it’s not just about the sun.

When it comes to skin cancer prevention, we aim for early detection, early treatment and cure, and routine skin monitoring and checks.

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