If I Do Self-Skin Checks, Do I Still Need to See a Dermatologist?
Last updated: March 2021
Hopefully, you are in the habit of checking your skin regularly for any areas that may be suspicious or worrisome. New moles, moles changing shape, new bumps, scaly patches, a scab that won’t completely heal...these can all potentially be signs of skin cancer.
How often should I do a self-skin exam?
How often should you check your skin? I honestly didn’t know the answer to that, as I have a habit of doing daily skin checks. I’ve had skin cancer since 1995, and I tend to always have a watchful eye for anything out of the ordinary. So, I checked online to see what I could find. The American Cancer Society indicates on their website that while they do not have guidelines on that, many doctors recommend doing self-skin checks regularly, typically once a month.1
What to check for during a self-skin exam
And what are the steps to doing a self-skin check? During your self-check, you’ll get a more thorough view if you’re naked. Believe it or not, skin cancer can appear in areas that never see the light of day. Start your check at your forehead, then be sure to examine the entire front of your body from your forehead down to your feet.
Use a mirror
Use a hand mirror to examine the bottoms of your feet and backs of your legs and buttocks. Use the mirror to examine the back of your neck and your ears. Get as close as you can to a larger mirror (either floor mirror or bathroom mirror) and use a hand mirror to examine your back.
Check your underarm area, the underside of your arms, the palms of your hands, and be sure to look at both your fingernails and toenails for dark spots, streaks, or bruise marks. Don’t forget to check your scalp. Part your hair in various areas so you can get a better look at your scalp. Your hairdresser or barber will also hopefully be looking for any worrisome spots on your head during your hair appointments.
It might be helpful to take a picture of any places that you think look out of the ordinary. You can also keep a body map that shows areas you think are concerning. This will help you to remember to point out all of those areas when you see your doctor.
Self-exams don't replace dermatologist appointments
But don’t let your self-skin checks take the place of seeing a dermatologist. If you’ve done self-skin checks, you know that it can be difficult for you to see every area of your body. You may want to ask a partner or friend to assist with your skin check, and even though that can be helpful, you still need an appointment with a professional.
A dermatologist has expertise in caring for the skin. An area that may look like no big deal to you may actually be a big deal. A dermatologist can perform a biopsy to find out if something needs to be treated. A dermatologist can treat precancerous areas and can remove cancerous areas. Early diagnosis and treatment are important, and seeing a dermatologist regularly may aid in catching skin cancer at an early stage. So yes, even if you currently do self-skin checks, you should still have a regularly-scheduled skin check with a dermatologist.
Make it a habit
If you aren’t in the habit of doing self-skin checks, I’d encourage you to start. And if you don’t see a dermatologist once a year for a full-body skin check (or as often as your doctor recommends), please schedule an appointment. It may save your life.
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