What is a skin cancer exam?
A full body skin cancer exam is a type of examination performed by healthcare providers to survey for skin cancers and precancers. These exams are an effective way to find and treat precancers before they progress into cancer or to detect skin cancers early, before they spread.
Who needs a skin cancer exam?
People with a history of excessive sun exposure, frequent or severe sunburns, blistering sunburns, or people with fair skin are at higher risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers.
Melanoma skin cancer is more likely to develop on people who have a history of excessive sun exposure and sunburns, but can occur on anyone. Patients with a family history of melanoma are at higher risk as well. Everyone has moles, but people who have many moles (50 or more) have a higher risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma does not have to grow in sun-exposed areas, which is why providers check the scalp, in between the toes, the nails, eyelids, and the buttocks for suspicious lesions.
Your healthcare provider will tell you how often you should have a full body skin cancer exam, based on your history of sun exposure, family history, or the number of moles you have.
What does a full body skin cancer exam entail?
Patients are given a gown and asked to dress down to their level of comfort. Shoes, socks, watch eyeglasses, hearing aids, and anything in the hair is removed. A systematic evaluation is performed of the skin starting with the scalp and moving down the front of the body. Then the back of the body is assessed in the same “top to bottom” approach. In this manner, the skin surface is evaluated for lesions that look suspicious for cancer or precancer.
Because melanoma can grow inside the eye, inside the mouth and over the vulva (women), we recommend patients also have routine eye exams, dental care, and sufficient woman/gynecology physicals.
What happens if a suspicious lesion is found during your skin exam?
If the provider detects a lesion they believe to be suspicious for a skin cancer, they will recommend that it be removed. First, the provider will clean the skin, usually with alcohol. Then they will inject a fast-acting numbing agent into the skin around the lesion. Next, they will shave off, or use a special “cookie cutter” tool to remove the lesion from the skin, to be evaluated by the pathologist. You will be notified of the results and the further steps needed, if any.