Annual Skin Exams: What You Need to Know

March 2, 2020
By: Dr. Darlene Gou

Dr. Darlene Gou at Innovative Dermatology offers tips and advice on why you should have an annual skin exam!

Have you had your annual full-body skin exam? If not, it’s a great idea to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist! Full-body skin exams are the most important screening tool to detect skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world and affects 1 in every 5 Americans. While most skin cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, around 200,000 new melanomas are diagnosed each year in the United States. The incidence rate of melanoma in non-Hispanic Caucasians is 26 out of 100,000 per year.
Even if you have a darker complexion, you’re not necessarily in the clear! Skin cancer can occur in all types of skin tones. Additionally, people of color are more prone to developing skin cancer in areas that are sun-protected, such as the palms, soles, groin, and under the nails. Dermatologists are trained to examine the scalp, skin, mucous membranes, and nails to detect skin cancer and treat all types of skin conditions. 
It can be helpful to perform self-skin exams every month to detect new or changing lesions, though self-skin exams are not a replacement for an exam by a board-certified dermatologist. If you notice a lesion is changing, itching, bleeding, or otherwise symptomatic, it’s important to take note of it and bring it to your dermatologist’s attention. 
To prepare for your exam, go without makeup or remove it at the office so that the face can be examined more accurately. It is also important to remove polish from fingernails and toenails, as skin cancer can also affect these areas. You will be asked to change into a gown so that all parts of your skin can be examined. Your dermatologist may also use a painless tool called a dermatoscope to look more closely at a mole or a skin lesion. 
For those with no personal or family history of skin cancer, an annual exam is sufficient screening. However, individuals who have had skin cancer or who have family members with skin cancer require more frequent screening every 3-6 months. There are other circumstances in which frequent screening is recommended, including in transplant recipients, immunocompromised individuals, and those with inherited photosensitive disorders.
Remember that prevention and early detection is our best defense against all types of skin cancer! When skin cancers are found and treated early, they tend to be smaller in size and are less likely to have invaded into deeper levels of the skin. Your dermatologist is also happy to discuss tips to reduce the risk of skin cancer, including sun-avoidance, sun-protective clothing, and sunscreen. For more information, contact us today or make an appointment now.