If you are truly serious about prevention, early detection, and the best treatments for skin cancers, you must undergo a total body skin exam regularly. How often an exam is needed will be determined by your family history of skin cancer, your previous exposure to sun and tanning beds, whether you have had previous skin cancers, precancers, or bad moles, and the current condition of your skin.
What is a total body skin exam?
A total body skin exam requires that every inch possible of your skin be examined, not just sun-exposed or visible skin areas. Why is this? Because skin cancer is not always found on the skin that got the most sun. If that was the case, then everyone getting skin cancer would first get it on the nose, and this is often not the case. Further, melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, does not need any sun or tanning bed use at all, in some cases, and can be found in body areas that never get any sun.
Don’t get me wrong; sun exposure, sunburns, and tanning bed use dramatically increase your risk for all skin cancers, including melanoma. Melanoma just happens to not need any of that in some cases. All things considered; it turns out that everyone is at risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. If you kept your clothes on for your total body skin check, you didn’t have a total body skin check.
Do I Need to Go to a Dermatologist?
If you are serious about prevention, early detection, and treatment of skin cancer, see a dermatologist for your total body skin exam, not another medical specialist. Dermatologists are the only medical specialists trained specifically to detect, diagnose, and treat skin conditions. Most people probably think it would not make sense to go to a dermatologist to treat your high blood pressure, diabetes, vision problems, or do a pap smear. It’s not that dermatologists aren’t smart enough, or nice enough to treat those conditions, we just weren’t trained to do so. By the same reasoning, your primary care doctor, OB-GYN, ophthalmologist, etc., are not trained in skin conditions and they are probably not the best to diagnose a suspicious growth, recognize dangerous moles, or in most cases, treat cosmetic concerns, as is a dermatologist.
The skin is often thought of as simply a covering for the more important body organs and structures within the body. It is classified, however, as a truly distinct and separate body organ system, just like the pulmonary, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems, to name a few others.
You may think that this discussion sounds self-serving. A dermatologist is advising you must go to a dermatologist about skin problems. However, prior to becoming a dermatologist, Dr. McGuiness became a board-certified internal medicine doctor. He has seen what most other medical specialists get for training about the skin and has been called to do many consults about skin issues by other medical specialists. It truly is best to see the specialist trained in the particular health issue of concern, whatever it might be.