How Much Time Should Your Dermatologist Spend Doing a Skin Check?
Last updated: January 2022
I have read numerous comments on skincancer.net about the thoroughness, or lack thereof, of a dermatologist performing a skin check. This made me realize that all dermatologists are definitely not created equal.
All skin checks are not created equal
One of my daughters had a dermatologist who was extremely thorough, and my daughter felt completely comfortable that her dermatologist hadn’t missed anything suspicious on her skin during her yearly skin checks. My other daughter recently had a skin check, and she said it only took a few moments.
There's a problem here
I was waiting in the parking lot, sitting in her car with my grandkids while she was having her checkup, and I was shocked at how quickly she was back outside. I asked her how she was done so fast, and she said it was because she "didn’t have anything wrong." The problem is, this daughter has a lot of moles. She was a frequent tanning bed user until about a year and a half ago, and she already had one suspicious spot biopsied last year, and the thought that she got a 3-minute exam (literally) is not sitting well with me.
I can't see everything, so I'm relying on my doctor
I also go to the same dermatologist as my daughters, and I have noticed that as the doctor’s practice has grown over the years, the skin checks seem more hurried. I have had skin cancer for over 26 years, and I am pretty good at spotting suspicious areas on my skin. When I have my six-month checkups, I point these areas out to my doctor. The problem is, I cannot see every area of my body, and there is always the possibility that I may not notice something. I rely on my doctor to make sure that any area that needs examined, treated, or biopsied is examined, treated, or biopsied.
This got me wondering, is there an average amount of time that dermatologists should spend with a patient performing a skin check?
There doesn't seem to be a standard answer
I did a quick search online, and while there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of information about time spent doing skin checks, the several articles I read seem to agree that a skin check will take around 15-20 minutes (one article said 10-15), or maybe even longer if there are lots of areas that need more-detailed examining. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a dermatologist should examine the patient from the top of the scalp to the bottoms of the feet, and as long as nothing suspicious is found, the exam shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes.
So what can you do to help ensure you are getting a quality skin check by your dermatologist?
- Keep up with your self-skin checks.
- Make a note of any areas you specifically want your doctor to look at (you may consider body mapping or even jotting down a note in your phone so you have it with you when you go).
- Be sure to point out any areas that are new, have changed in appearance, bleed, or itch.
- Remember, it’s possible to get skin cancer in areas that don’t see the light of day, so don’t just do a face/arms/chest/front of legs self-skin check.
Remember the alphabet trick
Also keep a close eye on your moles, keeping in mind ABCDE (asymmetry, border irregularity, color, diameter, evolving). Look for moles or areas on your body that have changed color, shape, size, have bled or not healed after a few weeks, or are larger than a quarter-inch in size.
Again, be sure to let your dermatologist know if there is an area that is causing you concern. Early detection and treatment are best, so keep a close eye on your skin, and hopefully, your dermatologist will do the same!
How long do your skin checks usually take when they're performed by a medical professional?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?