When is the best time of year to get a skin check?
Anytime you can make it work with your schedule, do it! Also, know that most dermatologists have a long waitlist, so once you get in, make sure you make an appointment for your next visit on the way out to ensure you can have the date and time you want.
What to expect during the check?
You will be given a gown and asked to get undressed. You can get skin cancer anywhere (yes, ANYWHERE!), so best to get fully naked. That said, if you are uncomfortable, it is OK to leave undergarments on–just make sure to tell your dermatologist if you have noticed anything under them that should be looked at during the exam.
The exam typically takes 5 minutes, and the dermatologist will look all over, including through your hair to see your scalp and even between your toes. It is best to come without polish as skin cancers like melanoma can present as a dark vertical band on your nail so we like to see your nails.
What to look out for before between visits?
We all get new weird skin things all the time. That is OK. I educate my patients that it is only a problem if an old thing is changing or a new thing shows up and does not go away after a month. Skin cancers come in many types. It can be a new pink papule, scaly spot, a spot that bleeds easily or a changing dark area. It is sometimes even hard for the dermatologist to know without a skin biopsy. But, if you have something new, not healing, for over a month or something old that is growing it is worth a visit to your dermatologist.
Who should get one?
The American Cancer Society recommends people between the ages of 20 and 40 get a professional skin exam every three years – especially if they live in sunny climates. This recommendation increases annually for people over age 40 or at higher risk. This higher risk group includes people with over 100 atypical moles, a family history of skin cancer or a personal history of multiple sunburns.
Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.