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By Jessica Brenner

When you visit your dermatologist, he or she will thoroughly examine your skin and ask about your medical history. If you need laboratory tests, your dermatologist will explain why you need them and approximately how long it usually takes to get results.

Here are some questions and answers that will help you know when to see your dermatologist
and what you can do to protect your skin and health between your doctor visits:

What conditions can a dermatologist treat?
Dermatologists treat a wide range of conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails.

How often should I see a dermatologist?
You should visit your dermatologist at least once each year for a thorough skin examination. If you have issues between your yearly visit, including acne, suspicious areas that do not heal, a rash, or an infected nail, you should see your dermatologist immediately. Many skin conditions can be treated easily with a dermatologist’s diagnosis and treatment.

What are risk factors for getting skin cancer?
Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Fair skin or skin that freckles, easily turns red, or quickly becomes sensitive after sun exposure
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to the sun at work or play
  • Sunburns, especially early in life

What Should I look for on my skin?
You should see a dermatologist immediately if you have areas on your skin that grow or change shape and color. In addition, you should see your dermatologist immediately if you have areas that ooze fluid or blood, crust or clot over, and then ooze or bleed again as well as any sore that doesn’t heal after 2 two weeks.

How can I tell if a skin growth is dangerous?
Only a dermatologist can distinguish a benign skin growth from cancer. If you have a suspicious growth, your dermatologist is likely to remove part or all of it for biopsy. In some cases, he or she will advise additional treatment to ensure that all the cancer cells have been removed.

Can melanoma spread? Is it dangerous?
If it’s left untreated, melanoma can spread and be life threatening; however, if it is found and treated in its early stages, melanoma is curable. Other skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma are curable or manageable. To protect your health and find skin cancer early, be sure to see your dermatologist each year or sooner if you have a suspicious spot on your skin.

How is skin cancer treated?
Skin cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer. If you have a basal cell tumor, the extent of your surgery will depend on your age and health as well as the type, size, location, and depth of your tumor. Melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma are typically removed (or excised) surgically. Mohs micrographic surgery is a precise technique for removing skin cancer that helps preserve healthy tissue. Other techniques for treating skin cancer include curettage and electrosurgery, cryosurgery, radiation, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, and topical medications.

What is the best way to prevent skin cancer?
The best way to avoid skin cancer is to limit your exposure to the sun. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.

Is there a safe way to tan?
There is no safe way to tan. Tanning occurs when damaging ultra violet rays enter the skin.

What are the cumulative effects of sun exposure?
Excessive exposure to the sun can cause your skin to wrinkle, blotch, roughen, be less flexible, and be prone to bruising and skin cancer.

Are tanning beds safe?
The US Department of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer have confirmed that ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds can cause cancer. Recent research shows a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma in people who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning before age 35.

Will sunscreen keep me from getting enough vitamin D?
Although it’s important to get some sunshine to help produce vitamin D, most people get enough even when wearing sunscreen. If you are concerned that you are not getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor what you should do to get more. There are safe ways to get enough vitamin D that do not increase your risk for skin cancer.

Are there any sunscreens designed just for sensitive skin?
People who are sensitive to sunscreens should look for chemical-free sunscreens. These products typically contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that reflect rather than absorb the sun’s rays. They are usually much less likely to cause a skin reaction.

Which sunscreen should I use?
The best sunscreen for you depends on your skin type; however, any sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more is a good place to start. Ask your dermatologist if he or she recommends a special sunscreen for your skin type.

When should I use sunscreen?
Because skin cancer results from cumulative exposure to UV rays, you should use sunscreen every day, all year around, and on sunny and cloudy days. You should use sunscreen whether you’re planning to be in the sun for very short or extended periods.

How Often Should I See My Dermatologist?

Most adults know they should see their general practitioner each year, but few know that a visit to the dermatologist should be part of their routine health and wellness visits as well.

Many people assume that because they haven’t noticed any significant problems with their skin, they don’t need to make the time to see a dermatologist. The truth is, an appointment at the dermatologist’s office can be beneficial for anyone—whether or not you currently have concerns about your skin.

What Does a Dermatologist Do?

In the most general terms, a dermatologist is in charge of caring for your skin, hair, nails, and oral cavity, by preventing or treating any conditions or diseases associated with those areas.

Some of the more common areas a dermatologist is qualified to address include:

  • Skin Cancer: Dermatologists perform skin cancer screenings and will help you choose a treatment option if you’re diagnosed with skin cancer.
  • Acne: Dermatologists work with individuals with acnewho haven’t had any luck with over-the-counter products, typically suggesting prescription medications to resolve acne.
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasisis a specialized skin condition that dermatologists address. Even though this condition is not a risk to your health, it is bothersome, and the discomfort can prevent you from enjoying your day-to-day life.
  • Eczema: For individuals dealing with eczema, an annoying skin condition known for symptoms such as itchy and flaky patches of skin, a dermatologist can provide treatment options such as prescription medication, if necessary.
  • Rosacea: Rosacea may begin with a tendency to blush or flush easily. As it progresses, it can lead to bumps, known as papules and pustules, and a persistent redness that spreads over the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead.
  • Scar Removal: Dermatologists address cosmetic concerns and offer treatments for scars caused by acne, stretch marks, or a previous skin condition.
  • Wart Removal: Warts such as plantar (foot) warts, genital warts, and common warts, are best removed by a dermatologist who can treat the wart with the right dermatological treatment.
  • Skin Care Education: A dermatologist will spend time with each patient, educating them on the best way to take care of their skin and what steps can be taken to prevent the occurrence of serious skin conditions such as skin cancer.

Some dermatologists may have the specific skills necessary to address your condition, others may refer you to another doctor if a more severe problem arises. Whether you have a condition or not, seeing a dermatologist is an important component of taking care of your whole self and should always be a part of your regular healthcare routine.

My Health Is Good; How Often Should I See My Dermatologist?

If you have no concerns about the health of your skin, hair, nails, or the oral cavity, you still need to see a dermatologist regularly as a way of maintaining your current health. Since an estimated 20 percent of all Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, healthy adults should see a dermatologist as a proactive way of monitoring for early detection of cancer or other dermatologic disorders.

We firmly believe every adult should have a full body exam a minimum of one time, each year.

If I Have Risk Factors for a Specific Condition, How Often Should I See My Dermatologist?

Once a year is the minimum when it comes to how often each individual should make an appointment with their dermatologist. At-risk adults may need to see a dermatologist more frequently.

When it comes down to it, your dermatologist is the best person to advise you on the frequency of your check-ups. Because of this, we recommend you start with an initial exam and spend time going through your personal and family history with your doctor. Be sure to mention if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • You, or a close relative, have been diagnosed with or treated for skin cancer.
  • If you have in the past, or currently, spend significant amounts of time in the sun.
  • You had x-ray treatments for acne when you were younger.
  • You have a mole with suspicious characteristics.
  • You have a skin condition, such as acne, psoriasis, or eczema.

After you have visited with your doctor, he or she can create a personalized plan to address your concerns about your health, which may include more frequent check-ups, a referral to another doctor, or specialized treatment. It’s not uncommon for a dermatologist to advise a patient with certain risk factors to have a check-up two to three times per year.

When Should I See a Dermatologist Right Away?

In many cases, regular check-ups are enough to maintain health and treat any present skin conditions. However, in some cases you should see a dermatologist immediately to address significant health concerns.

  • If you notice dark discolorations on your skin that have changed e.g., they bleed or won’t heal, it is important you see your dermatologist as soon as possible.
  • If you notice a suspicious looking mole, you have an itch, rash, or chronic skin condition that isn’t healing, have an unusual nodule or bump, have a scaly or oozing lesion, or you have an infected nail; then now is the time to make an appointment.

The American Melanoma Foundation recommends that any continuous or significant change in a mole requires a visit to the dermatologist. Use the ABCDs of melanoma as a guide:

  • A for Asymmetry—Is one half of the mole different than the other?
  • B for Border Irregularity—Are the edges uneven, blurred, or notched?
  • C for Color—Is the color uneven? Is the color black present? How about shades of tan or brown?
  • D for Diameter—Is the diameter greater than 6 millimeters?

How Can I Protect the Health of My Hair, Skin, Nails, and Oral Cavity Between Visits?

Seeing a dermatologist is a wise start, but you need to follow up by vigilantly caring for you hair, skin, nails, and mouth between each visit. Careful and routine skin care is key to preventing the development of serious skin conditions, including skin cancer.

  • According to the American Academy of Dermatology, exposure to UV light is the most avoidable skin cancer risk. Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight. If you will be spending time outdoors, protect your skin with clothing, shade, and a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.
  • Say “no” to tanning beds. The artificial UV radiation tanning beds emit is suspected to be linked to the development of skin cancer, specifically in women younger than 45.
  • Perform a self-exam at least once a month. Self-examinations are considered to be incredibly important since skin cancer found early is consistently curable, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Regular checks help you remain familiar with your skin, which allows you to notice immediately if anything changes. When you look over your skin, keep an eye out for anything suspicious, such as a changing mole or a mole that’s strangely shaped.

Contact Your Dermatologist Immediately if you Notice Any New, Concerning Conditions on your Skin.

Your dermatologist is the best person to seek out for advice on caring for your skin, performing skin examinations, and creating check-up schedules. Because of this, we recommend you schedule an initial full-body examination with a dermatologist by giving your nearest location a call!

Make today the day you begin taking the health of your hair, skin, nails, and oral cavity more seriously.

How Often Should I Visit My Dermatologist?

The health of your skin is important. Find out when an exam is necessary.

A lot of people don’t think about visiting a dermatologist let alone have one; however, skin problems can arise more often than you might realize and when it does it’s important that you have a dermatologist in Wellesley Hills, MA that can provide you with care when you require it. Our dermatologists Dr. Michael Goldaber, Dr. Elaine Kaye and Dr. David Aghassi are here to tell you when it might be time to schedule an appointment.

A good rule of thumb is to visit your Wellesley Hills, MA, skin doctor once a year for a full skin examination. Since skin cancer is so prevalent it’s important that everyone comes in annually for these professional examinations. After all, while you should be performing monthly self-examinations on your skin, most people don’t do a thorough job or don’t even perform these exams as often as they should.

If you are at an increased risk for skin cancer or if you’ve have skin cancer in the past then we may recommend that you come in more regularly for these exams.

However, skin cancer and routine skin examinations are not the only reasons you may want to visit a dermatologist. After all, a dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating a wide range of skin problems. Whether you are dealing with psoriasis, hair loss, allergies, acne or dermatitis, we offer many treatment options and individualized plans to address any issues you might have while also reducing the severity or frequency of your symptoms.

Making routine visits to the dermatologist is a good idea for everyone, no matter how healthy your skin might be. In fact, during these routine visits we can also provide you with advice and recommendations for everything from what products to use to what cosmetic procedures could reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Remember that we can help you achieve the beautiful, healthy skin you deserve.

If you are dealing with skin problems or if you have questions about the dermatological services we offer in Wellesley Hills, MA, don’t hesitate to call Newton Wellesley Dermatology Association.

Neutrogena Study Shows More Skin Cancer Education Needed

A recent Neutrogena-sponsored study has revealed that more consumer education about preventing skin cancer is needed along with debunking common skin care myths.

The national survey, commissioned by Neutrogena and executed by Harris Interactive, showed that just 13% of all women in the U.S. wear sunscreen on a daily basis and 56% of women surveyed believe the growing rate of skin cancer is due to lack of education.

“There are many misconceptions about who can get skin cancer and how you get skin cancer,” says dermatologist Darrell Rigel, MD. “The fact that melanoma is the most preventable cancer yet still on the rise, shows that more education is needed.”

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime, according to the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery. However, Neutrogena’s study revealed that 76% of Caucasian women and 63% of Hispanic women use sunscreen to protect themselves from skin cancer. In comparison, less than half, or 46%, of African-American women use sunscreen.

A common belief is that darker skin tones offer a natural barrier from the sun’s damaging rays and the Neutrogena study reveals that these myths can often lead to lax and dangerous sun safety behavior. While 76% of all women believe daily sunscreen use is important in helping prevent skin cancer, the average woman doesn’t begin using it until she is nearly 30-years-old, long after significant skin damage has already been done.

Neutrogena and Dr. Rigel are seeking to educate women through a focused campaign as they dispel common skin cancer myths such as:

1. MYTH: “I am not at risk of getting skin cancer from sun exposure, because my routine (work, drive to work, indoor hobbies, and vacations) doesn’t include any outdoor activities.”

However, dermatologists say brief sun exposures throughout the year can add up to significant damage for everyone, especially those with fair skin.

2. MYTH: “SPF 30 is all the SPF protection I need; anything higher is all the same.”

But the doctor says that if you don’t apply enough sunscreen (one ounce for your body and one tablespoon for your face) or you apply your sunscreen incorrectly, it may result in a lower SPF than the labeled protection level. Higher SPF sunscreens also provide additional sunburn protection under extreme UV conditions. For those who might be prone to applying insufficient amounts of sunscreen, look for an SPF 50 or higher sunscreen with Helioplex technology.

3. MYTH: “An annoying mole or sore that won’t go away is just that―annoying, nothing to worry about.”

But the experts say that sometimes an annoying sore that will not go away, or a mole that has changed in size or color, is actually something more serious and possibly an early form of skin cancer. An annual skin cancer screening is necessary to identify cancer in its early stages. Neutrogena and the ASDS urge people to take skin health seriously and sign up for a free skin cancer screening with a dermatologist in their community at

4. MTYH: “A tanning bed is safer than UV rays from the sun.”

However, research has revealed that exposure to the ultraviolet light from tanning beds can impact your skin in a variety of ways including wrinkles, sun spots and freckles. Neutrogena recommends using sunless tanning products for a streak-free, all-over tan without damaging skin.

5. MYTH: “Dark-skinned men and women are not at risk for sun damage and skin cancer.”

Although women with naturally dark skin have a much lower risk of skin cancer than those who are fair-toned, this does not make them immune to skin cancer, the study warns. Cases of skin cancer in people with darker skin are often not detected until later stages, when it is more dangerous. The overall melanoma survival rate for African-Americans is only 77% versus 91% for Caucasians.

6. MYTH: “Since summer is almost over and the sun isn’t as strong, I don’t need to wear sunscreen every day.”

However, experts warn that the sun’s harmful rays are as deadly during the colder seasons as they are during summer. In fact, even under cloud cover, it is possible for the sun to harm your skin and eyes, so it is important to protect yourself with sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing even in cloudy weather.

7. MYTH: “Only UVB radiation can cause skin damage.”

The fact is that both UVA and UVB rays cause sunburns and damaging effects such as skin cancer. UVB rays account for 80% of the sun’s damage and UVA for 20%, so Neutrogena recommends that consumers opt for a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects from both. Although not all broad-spectrum sunscreens are equally effective, the company says. For the best in sun protection, look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with at least SPF 30, especially those with sunscreen technology like Helioplex that are formulated with the ideal balance of UVA and UVB filters.

8. MYTH: “Teenagers and young people don’t have to worry about skin cancer. It only affects older adults.”

But studies have shown that melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults 25- to 29- years-old. It is also increasing faster in women in the 15- to 29-year-old age group than in men of the same age group.

To view a sun protection PSA from Gabrielle Union and learn more about skin cancer prevention, .

Neutrogena, ASDS Kick off ‘Choose Skin Health’

Results released from a new national survey of dermatologists and consumers show there is a major gap between what dermatologists recommend and what Americans actually do when it comes to sun-safe behavior.
As a result, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and Neutrogena have partnered on Choose Skin Health, a multi-faceted, national education campaign, to offer free skin cancer screenings and educate people on how to take charge of their skin health by adopting sun-safe behaviors 365 days a year.
While one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetime, the survey (conducted by Harris Interactive) found that only one in five people wear sunscreen on a daily basis, even though 94% of Americans know that prolonged exposure to the sun can cause skin damage and even skin cancer.
“Ultimately, these survey results show that people aren’t taking sun safety as seriously as they should. We should be limiting our exposure to direct sun rays and putting on sunscreen in the morning should be as automatic as putting a seatbelt on when you get into a car,” said Dr. Jeffrey Dover, president of ASDS. “The other key component is skin screening. We are proud that our members are providing free skin cancer screenings across the country, and we encourage people to download the Skin Cancer Self Examination Kit on the campaign website.”
Another survey finding was that while many Americans are taking steps that will likely help maintain or improve their body as a whole, such as drinking lots of water (68%) and eating a balanced diet (50%), far fewer are using sunscreen to maintain or improve their skin health, especially when compared to what dermatologists believe people should do for their skin.
“Skin cancer is the most common type of malignancy in this country and according to a recent study published in the Archives of Dermatology, it has reached epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, who is a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, adjunct professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and member of the Choose Skin Health Advisory Board. “It is so important for people to be aware of this threat, because it is a type of cancer that is preventable. For those who may be worried because they spent years as sun worshipers, they should know that skin cancer is 99% curable when detected early.”
As part of its ongoing education efforts, the Choose Skin Health campaign has also launched a Facebook page where members can receive tips on sun-safe behavior and find information about ongoing initiatives.


Each year, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is the deadliest form and its incidence is rising faster than any other cancer.

But surviving even this deadly type of skin cancer is possible. In fact, there’s a 99% survival rate when the disease is found in its earliest stages. And one of the best ways to ensure that happens is with a skin cancer self-exam. By checking your skin every month for irregularities that might be signs of early cancer, and bringing those changes to your doctor’s attention, you can play a key role in protecting your life.

What should you be looking for? Any spot or marking that is new, or one that changes in size, shape, feel, or color. You should also be aware of any unusual sore, lump, or blemish, or any change in how skin looks and feels — particularly any crusting, oozing, or bleeding, as well as itching, tenderness, or pain.

An abnormal mole is one that is irregularly shaped, has a jagged, not smooth, border, and a mosaic-like color with a mixture of red, white, and/or blue (called the “flag sign”) or various shades of brown.

Early Detection: Overview

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      • Actinic Keratosis Risk Factors
      • Actinic Keratosis Warning Signs and Images
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      • Basal Cell Carcinoma Warning Signs and Images
      • Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment
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      • Melanoma Risk Factors
      • Melanoma Warning Signs and Images
      • Melanoma Stages
      • Melanoma Treatment
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      • Merkel Cell Carcinoma Warning Signs and Images
      • Merkel Cell Carcinoma Stages
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      • Advanced Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment
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Melanoma survivor? You really need to check your skin!

Have you been diagnosed and treated for melanoma? If so, skin self-exams are essential. Once you’ve had melanoma, you have a higher risk of getting another one. It’s also possible for the cancer to return.

Checking your skin helps you find melanoma in its earliest stage. The earlier melanoma is found and treated, the greater the likelihood that it will be completely removed.

Thorough skin self-exams can help melanoma survivors find new cancers early.

Seeing a dermatologist? Skin exams still essential

Even if you keep all follow-up appointments with your dermatologist, skin self-exams are important. Studies show that skin self-exams help melanoma survivors find earlier melanomas.

If you’re like many melanoma survivors, you may feel that you don’t have the skills to check your skin. You may feel uncertain about what to look for. This can leave you feeling that only your dermatologist should check your skin. That’s understandable.

Because skin self-exams are so important, dermatologists have worked with the AAD to create materials that can help you check your skin with confidence. With these materials, you can quickly learn what to look for, how to check your skin, and when to call your dermatologist.

Your partner can help you check your skin

A research study found that partners of patients with melanoma can effectively perform skin exams and find new melanomas.

What to look for

To make it easy for people to remember what to look for on their skin, dermatologists created the ABCDEs of melanoma:

A is for Asymmetry
One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
B is for Border
The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
C is for Color
The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
D is for Diameter
While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
E is for Evolving
The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

How to check your skin

Now that you know what to look for, it can be helpful to watch someone perform a skin exam. In this short video, you’ll review the ABCDEs of melanoma and see how a partner can help you check the hard-to-see areas like your back and scalp.

Skin self-exam: How to do

You can catch skin cancer early by following board-certified dermatologists’ tips for checking your skin.

What you need

If you prefer to check your skin by yourself, you’ll need the following:

  • Full-length mirror

  • Handheld mirror

The AAD’s Body Mole Map can also help. On this one-page sheet, you’ll find the ABCDEs of melanoma, pictures that show you how to perform a skin self-exam, and a place to record what your moles look like so that you can spot a change.

How often you need to check your skin

This varies. Ask your dermatologist how often you should check your skin.

Ready, set, check your skin

Today is a great time to practice what you’ve learned. Find a quiet, private place where you can check your entire body. Be sure to check your arms, feet, space between your toes, scalp, back, and buttocks.

If you feel uncertain about anything, be sure to let your dermatologist know. Your dermatologist can show you exactly what to do.

When to call your dermatologist

You want to call your dermatologist’s office immediately if you find anything on your skin that is:

  • Similar to any of the ABCDEs of melanoma

  • Growing

  • Itching

  • Bleeding

  • Changing in any way

Be sure the person who answers the phone knows that you’ve had melanoma and just found a suspicious spot. The earlier melanoma is found and treated, the greater the likelihood that it can be completely removed.

Related AAD resources

  • What to look for: The ABCDEs of melanoma

  • How to do a skin self-exam

  • Body Mole Map

Image 1: Getty Images Images 2-5: American Academy of Dermatology

Körner A, Drapeau M, et al. “Barriers and facilitators of adherence to medical advice on skin self-examination during melanoma follow-up care.” BMC Dermatol. 2013 Mar 1;13:3.

Robinson JK, Wayne JD, et al. “Early detection of new melanomas by patients with melanoma and their partners using a structured skin self-examination skills training intervention: A randomized clinical trial.” JAMA Dermatol. 2016 Sep 1;152(9):979-85.

What to expect during a skin exam

There are plenty of things that I’m supposed to do for my health that I skip (like that overdue vision exam), but a skin exam isn’t one of them. As a melanoma survivor, these screenings are a routine part of my life.

So when friends ask about skin exams, I try to demystify what should be an important, annual appointment for everyone, especially those at increased risk for skin cancer. Here’s what I tell them.

What does the actual skin exam entail?
First, you’ll change into one of those stylish one-size-fits-none gowns. You know the ones – they claim to preserve a sliver of modesty, but really do anything but.

Before the skin exam, your doctor may ask if you have any concerns. Even if he or she doesn’t ask, don’t be shy. Point out any spots that worry you or changes you have noticed.

Your doctor will then do a head-to-toe skin exam, making note of any spots that need monitoring or closer examination. My screenings typically include an exam of my scalp, face, mouth, hands, feet, trunk and extremities, eyes and eyelids, ears, fingers, toes and toenails. Because of my melanoma history, my doctor also looks at my lymphatic regions.

Your doctor may look at any unusual spots with a dermatoscope, which looks like a combination of a magnifying glass and flashlight. This allows your doctor to better examine moles that are hard to see with the naked eye.

Do skin checks ever get more … thorough?
I’m often asked if a skin exam includes the genital areas. Some doctors do a full-body exam in every sense of the phrase. Others skip these areas altogether unless a patient specifically requests them.

If you’ve noted any concerning spots in this area, raise them. Don’t let a few minutes of awkwardness mean the difference between catching skin cancer early, when it’s most easily treated, and when it’s advanced to a more troubling stage.

My skin checks include examination of these areas, and I encourage friends to at least have someone examine those areas — if not a dermatologist, then a gynecologist or other trusted health care provider. While skin cancer usually appears on parts of the body exposed to UV light, I’m proof that this isn’t always the case. Melanoma and other skin cancers can and do arise where the sun doesn’t shine.

What if there’s something suspicious on my skin?
If your doctor finds a suspicious spot, he or she may make a note of it and monitor it over time. Often, your doctor will biopsy it that day. Biopsies at dermatologists’ offices typically involve numbing the area around the spot with a local anesthetic, then scraping or shaving a small sample of the lesion. The sample is then sent for analysis. Sometimes a doctor will do a punch biopsy instead, which uses a circular blade akin to a hole puncher to remove deeper layers of skin for testing. In either case, you will typically get your results within 7-10 days. Your doctor also may want to photograph any unusual spots that don’t yet warrant removal. This will give your doctor something to compare your mole to the next time you have a skin exam.

How long does a skin check take, and how often should I get one?
I know: doctors’ appointments can be disruptive and inconvenient. But a skin exam is quick and painless. A typical skin exam usually only takes 20 minutes, and most people don’t need them more than once a year. If it’s your first visit, it will take a bit longer, as your doctor likely will talk about skin cancer risk factors and ask about your medical history. Your doctor also will discuss about when you need another skin exam, based on your personal history and the results of this skin exam.

I’ll be honest: I almost cancelled my first skin exam. It was my birthday week, and that seemed like a good enough reason to skip it. I also was feeling guilty about the tan I’d just gotten on vacation.

I’m glad I ended up keeping that appointment. It saved my life.

Rachel Cruz volunteers with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program. To connect with other cancer patients and caregivers through myCancerConnection, please call 800-345-6324 or visit myCancerConnection online.

Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.

 Annual Exams

As part of a complete early detection strategy, we recommend that you see a dermatologist once a year, or more often if you are at a higher risk of skin cancer, for a full-body, professional skin exam.

To help you prepare and make the most of your appointment, follow these five simple steps.

  1. Perform a self-exam and come to your appointment prepared with notes of any new, changing or unusual spots you want to point out to your dermatologist.
  2. Remove nail polish from your fingers and toes to enable thorough examination of fingers, nails and nail beds, since skin cancers can form there.
  3. Wear your hair loose. Remove pony tails, buns or hair clips so that your doctor can get a good look at your scalp where skin cancers can, and do, develop.
  4. Pack makeup remover to bring to your appointment and remove any makeup before your exam so that the skin around your eyes is easy to examine.
  5. Ask questions. This is your opportunity to get valuable advice and insight from a professional trained specifically in diseases of the skin. From explanations of unfamiliar terms to pointers on how to do a skin self-exam, your doctor is an excellent source of information!

During the exam

If you’ve never had atypical moles or skin cancer, the exam will likely be brief. Your doctor may biopsy one or more suspicious spots. This usually means removing part or all of the lesion and sending it to a lab for analysis. If the report comes back that the spot is skin cancer, your physician will contact you and explain the type of skin cancer and treatment options.

Remember that early detection of skin cancer is the key to the most minimal and cost-effective treatment with the highest chance of a cure. Make your appointment soon!

Find a Dermatologist

Learn more about our Destination: Healthy Skin screening and education program.

Is there anything I should do to get ready?

Wear your hair down and remove any nail polish: Your doctor will want to examine your scalp, and your nails need an exam, too. In the exam room, remove your clothes and slip into the robe. It’s OK to wear makeup, but bring along whatever you need for touch-ups, since your doctor may need to remove some for a better look at the skin.

Do I have to stand there totally naked?

When we say skin check, we do mean all your skin—your dermatologist will examine you from your scalp (where she may use a blow dryer to scan through your hair) to the face, ears, lips, inside the mouth, neck, chest, trunk, buttocks, arms, armpits, legs, nails, palms, and soles of your feet. I usually uncover one part of the body at a time and tell my patients to leave their underwear on (I’ll move it around as needed!). Dermatologists don’t routinely examine the genital skin unless you mention a specific concern, but remember: We went to school for what feels like a million years to be trained how to do so if there’s a problem.

What’s the dermatologist looking for, exactly?

Pink, pearly, or rough-looking bumps, or open sores that won’t heal (these could be nonmelanoma skin cancers). Tiny rough papules over the face, the backs of the hands, or the forearms (possible precancers). Moles that are asymmetric or have unusual or uneven color, jagged borders, or a large size (wider than the diameter of a pencil eraser), which could signal melanoma. A dark streak under a nail or inside the mouth could also be melanoma. Plus, any mole or lesion on the skin that stands out from everything else around it—it’s what we call the ugly-duckling sign.

Do I have to tell her that I used tanning beds in high school? I haven’t done it since.

She’s probably going to ask you a series of questions, including: Have you noticed anything new on your skin? Have you ever had a skin cancer? Has a family member? Have you ever gone indoor tanning? Have you ever had a blistering sunburn? Do you wear sunscreen every day? Each of these factors could increase the likelihood of skin cancer—and if you’ve gone to all the trouble of making the appointment and showing up, you might as well be honest about your risk factors for skin cancer. And hey, I’m not one to pass judgment. I may be a dermatologist, but I’ve seen the inside of a tanning bed, too.

I have a ton of moles. Should I be worried about them?

These benign brown spots are entirely normal, can be raised or flat, and are made of a collection of melanocytes (the pigment-producing cells) within the skin. Some of us are genetically predisposed to make them by the dozen, but sun exposure can also trigger new moles. The reason we pay special attention to nevi—that’s the medical term for moles—is because they can resemble melanoma, and 54 percent of the time, melanoma arises within an existing mole, (according to a November 2015 study from JAMA Dermatology). If you have 50 or more moles on your body, research shows that you are at an elevated risk for melanoma. The risk might jump by a few percentage points (if your moles tend to be small and round) but could be over 80 percent if you have a strong family history of melanoma.

Full-Body Skin Exam

In addition to checking your own skin monthly, experts suggest that people at high risk of skin cancer – see below for examples of people at high risk – see a dermatologist at least annually for a full skin exam.

Who should get a full-body skin exam?

Anyone with…

  • a personal or family history of melanoma
  • fair skin, red or blonde hair and light eyes,
  • a history of sunburn/excessive UV radiation exposure,
  • many or unusual moles, or a
  • weakened immune system.

Note: Your dermatologist can help you assess your own individual risk factors to determine how often you should seek out a full-body skin exam.

Dermatologists are specially trained in the early detection of skin cancer, including melanoma. Many dermatologists will use a specialized device called a dermascope that combines a flashlight with a microscope to look at moles more closely. They may even take photos of moles to track them over time. If a dermatologist sees something suspicious, they will biopsy it for further evaluation.

Tips for your full-body skin exam:

  • Make your appointments early: It can sometimes take some time to be fit into a schedule. Make your regular appointments early! If you think you may have melanoma – make this clear to the person who is scheduling the appointment. They may be able to see you sooner.
  • Write questions down in advance, including the location of any moles that you have specific questions about: It’s easy to get overwhelmed or be swept up in the process. Write your questions down in advance so you don’t forget to ask.
  • Don’t Be Modest: Skin cancer can be anywhere, so don’t let a few uncomfortable minutes stand between you and early detection. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor – look for another one!

How often should you go to the dermatologist?

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