Early diagnosis through a skin cancer screening can be the difference between life and death. According to American Cancer Society research, if melanoma (most deadly type of skin cancer) is caught in stage one, the 5 year survival rate is 97%. Late detection survival rates can be as low at 15%. The best way to detect skin cancer early on is by getting an annual full body skin cancer screening.
Getting more familiar with what actually happens in the exam room of a skin cancer screening helps you become more comfortable with the idea of scheduling one for yourself. A typical full body skin cancer screening is a simple 10 minute appointment where a dermatologist examines your body and looks for any areas of concern.
1 - Once you are in the exam room, a medical assistant will ask a series of intake questions (very similar to any other doctor’s appointment.)
2 - After intake questions are answered, the medical assistant provide you with a drape before exiting the room to allow you privacy to undress.
3 - Once you are undressed down to your undergarments, you cover yourself up with the provided drapes and wait until the dermatologist to enter the room and examine your skin.
4 - When the dermatologist enters, you will first discuss any areas of concern you may have. According to Michelle Cihla, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology, “It is important to point out any areas you have noticed changing. Remember, you know your skin the best because you see it every day and notice the new or evolving moles.”
5 - After expressing your concerns, the doctor will examine each part of your skin, and may use a special magnifying glass with a light—called a dermatoscope—to examine certain suspicious spots. Your doctor has studied endlessly to determine which spots are suspicious!
6 - If the doctor sees a spot that that seems suspicious, you may need a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing the spot either entirely or just a portion. (Either way, it is a very small portion of skin, such as a mole.)
7 - After your visit, this tiny portion of skin is sent to a pathology lab, where highly-trained doctors and scientists study it closely to determine if the spot is cancerous. (If a biopsy is needed, your appointment may extend a little past 10 minutes.) Results of your biopsy are usually not given during your appointment.
8 - The results of your biopsy will usually take about two weeks. If your biopsy comes back as cancerous, and needing further treatment, our office will personally call you to discuss the diagnosis and how to proceed with treatment.
9 - After the doctor examines your skin, taken any needed biopsies, the full body skin cancer screening is finished. The doctor will exit the room to allow you to get dressed.
10 - Always stop the check-out desk to get any information, prescriptions, samples that the doctor wants you to have!
Our hope in painting this picture of a typical appointment is that it could help you (or your loved ones) feel more comfortable scheduling a skin cancer screening. Paying careful attention to your skin can save your life!