a very tiny doctor rappels off the body of a huge patient and looks at moles under his arm

What Happens During A Full Body Exam?

I didn’t know what to expect during my first full-body skin check. I didn’t know how thoroughly they examine every part of your body. And yes, at times, the full-body exam feels as intimate as a gynecological exam. I feel exposed but I also feel secure that the doctor isn’t going to miss anything.

I’ll break the full-body skin exam appointment down by steps.

Step 1

See the nurse/assistant and relay any concerns, for example, moles or spots that you’d like the doctor to examine, and ask any questions you may have.

Step 2

Get completely undressed, sit on the exam table with a sheet over your body.  Wait for the doctor to come in.

Step 3

Tell the doctor anything specific you want her to check on your face or body, any moles you’ve noticed a change in, any new spots you’ve found. Now is another chance to ask any questions you have about the exam.

Step 4: The exam

  1. First I’m asked to lie down on my back.  My doctor starts at the top of my body, examining my head and scalp, and works her way down to my toes. She parts my hair and examines different sections of my scalp.
  2. Then, she examines my eyes, eyelids, face, ears, behind my ears, and neck.
  3. She then examines my body, including my chest, stomach, arms, underarms, hands, and fingers, between my fingers, the genital area, my legs, feet, and between my toes.
  4. I then turn over onto my stomach and lie still as she examines my back, my butt, and the soles of my feet.

How does she examine me?

My PA and many dermatologists use a specialized device called a dermatoscope that combines a flashlight with a microscope to look at moles more closely. They may even take photos of moles to track them over time. She leans over my body holding the dermatoscope and moves close in to examine specific spots. It does make a little nervous every time she stops to look closely at a spot, but I try to reassure myself that if I have any suspicious spots, it’s best to find them early and determine whether they’re benign or need to be removed.

If the doctor notices something suspicious during the exam, she often performs a biopsy. She’ll tell you that she’s going to biopsy specific spots to determine if they are skin cancer or not.

What happens during a biopsy

First, she numbs the area surrounding the spot with a local anesthetic. It doesn’t hurt. You’ll feel just a slight twinge when the doctor numbs the area. Try doing what I do-look away and it will be over in a second or two.

  1. The doctor then removes a sample of tissue to test.
  2. After removing it, they cover the area with a Band-Aid and tell you to change the Band-Aid the next day and put Vaseline on the area.
  3. They send the tissue for analysis and get results within one week to 10 days, usually. Call if you don’t get results by that time.
  4. It’s important to note that the full-body skin exam is painless. and takes no more than 15-20 minutes, including the time to talk.

Most people need it once a year. I go twice a year because of my previous skin cancers.

Just GO, no matter what

Please don’t delay and don’t cancel for a reason like the one I almost used: because I had done a bike ride and had a slight tan. Okay, it was more like sunburn on my back. The nurse and my doctor didn’t chastise me for the sunburn at all, and instead told me how important it was to have the skin check. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t delay. It could save your life.

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