A full body exam, or skin cancer screening, is performed by a skin care professional. It’s done in an effort to identify suspicious spots or growths that have the symptoms of skin cancer. Many believe that full body exams are simple check-ups, or in other words, a routine that’s done out of habit every time you’re visiting your dermatologist. However, a full body exam is much more than that, as it can potentially save your life.
The earlier skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat successfully. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute claims that full body exams decrease melanoma mortality, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, by up to 63 percent. This is why full body exams are so important and why we, as skin care professionals, urge you to take the exams seriously.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about full body exams. This includes how our doctors examine the body, how suspicious growths are identified, and how suspicious-looking growths are tested.
What should you expect?
Oftentimes, before a full body exam, patients tend to become anxious. This is because many dermatologist offices aren’t up front about what to expect during these routine procedures. Rather, they assume because full body exams are so common that most are aware of what to expect. However, at Arizona Dermatology, we strive to be as up front and transparent as possible with our patients. This ensures you’re comfortable with the treatment leading up to your appointment.
Below, we’ve provided information on what to expect before, during, and after a full body exam.
Upon walking into our offices, you’ll immediately be greeted by our staff. We’ll ensure that your check-in process goes smoothly, and that you’re quickly seen by a dermatologist. Once the dermatologist is ready to see you, the doctor will first speak with you about any questions or concerns you may have.
During this time, our doctors will also ask a few precursor questions regarding your health such as family history and previous medical situations, if applicable. We’ll then take the time to get to know your comfort level. This is important because we want to be fully aware of your personal limits and what may potentially make you feel uncomfortable, so we can avoid those scenarios during the exam.
After all questions and concerns have been addressed, the full body exam will take place. Our doctors will evaluate the body from the scalp to the toes, depending on your comfort level.
During the screening, our doctors will observe the skin, making note of any spots that need monitoring or further examination. Depending on the size, color, and location of the growth, a dermatoscopy, an instrument that’s essentially a combination of a magnifying glass and a flashlight, may be used in order to get a closer look of the spot. A dermatoscopy will allow our staff to examine moles, freckles, or spots that are too difficult to see with the naked eye.
After the full body exam takes place, our doctors will discuss next steps. If a suspicious growth was identified, the next steps typically include a biopsy, skin cancer treatment, and a follow-up appointment. However, if no suspicious growths were identified, we’ll recommend that you perform self-examinations to monitor your skin for any changes or new growths.
How are suspicious growths identified?
When examining your skin, our doctors are looking for a few, specific characteristics. These characteristics help identify any indications of abnormal growths. For example, this can include moles, freckles, or other spots that show discoloration or are of a suspicious size or shape. The best way to monitor growths on your own is to perform self-exams using the ABCDE guidelines.
- A (Asymmetry): Draw a line through the middle of the growth. If the two sides do not match, it’s considered to be asymmetrical. This is a warning sign of skin cancer.
- B (Border): A benign, or cancer-free, growth will have smooth and even borders. A cancerous mole, freckle, or spot will have scalloped or notched edges.
- C (Color): Most non-cancerous growths are a single shade of brown, whereas cancerous spots contain a variety of colors.
- D (Diameter): Benign freckles, moles, or spots usually have a smaller diameter compared to growths that are considered cancerous.
- E (Evolving): Common and benign growths will look the same over time. Cancerous growths can change, or evolve, their size, shape, color, or elevation at any time.
If the growth is suspicious, what are the next steps?
If our doctors identify a suspicious growth, there are three steps that we’ll go through in order to protect your heath. These steps include:
Below, we’ll dive into more details on what each step entails.
If there’s a growth that concerns us, we’ll perform a biopsy to accurately determine whether the growth is skin cancer. Performing a biopsy is the only way we’re able to determine if the growth is in fact cancerous, and if so, what type of cancer it is and how serious we’ll need to be with the treatment.
If the results from the biopsy come back benign, meaning non-cancerous, no further steps are required. Rather, we’ll keep constant watch on that particular growth and recommend that you come in for frequent full body exams. This will ensure your skin remains in good health.
However, if the biopsy concludes that the growth is skin cancer, we’ll discuss appropriate treatment options. Treatment for skin cancer will vary depending on a variety of factors such as the type of skin cancer and how aggressive the growth appears to be. Depending on the logistics of your particular case, our doctors at Arizona Dermatology may recommend any of the following skin cancer treatments:
- Mohs surgery
- Electrodessication & Curettage
- Prescription medication
- Photodynamic therapy
- Chemical peels
- Laser treatment
For more information on these treatments, feel free to contact us at any time.
After the growth has been tested and treated, the last step is to follow-up. We’ll ask that you continuously monitor your skin as well as come in for frequent check-ups to ensure that the removed growth as well as the rest of the skin isn’t experiencing any suspicious changes.
Your next steps
Although full body exams seem to be a simple routine, we urge you to take them seriously and to not brush them off. Whether you realize is or not, coming in for one of these exams could potentially save your life.
For more information on skin cancer, suspicious growths, or full body exams, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. At Arizona Dermatology, we’re proud to be your go-to resource for all your skin care concerns.