A full body skin exam? Do I really need this?

legI believe in preventative care when it comes to health.  I see my dentist regularly; see my eye doctor annually; see my family doctor and cardiologist twice a year, like clockwork.  For some reason, I have not included my dermatologist in my annual reviews, and now realize that checkup is important, too.

Don’t get me wrong:  I have seen my dermatologist when I deemed it necessary. If I had a questionable mole I would schedule an appointment.  But a full body exam of your skin is recommended yearly, to check for skin cancer and to note and monitor changes in your skin. I have not done that.

A full body exam didn’t sound good to me.  I’m not overly modest, but the idea of being totally nude on a table while a doctor checked every inch of my skin, just sounded unpleasant to me.  And since I didn’t see any problems, I have never been a sun worshipper, and don’t have cancer in my family, it has been easy to postpone this exam.

But I finally decided to book the appointment. No longer a teenager (now well into my prime), it makes sense that things will be changing on my body, and I don’t want to be surprised by something I didn’t see/notice/realize is a problem.  Again, better safe than sorry.  So I went in for the exam.

It wasn’t a bad experience – I was pleasantly surprised! I was asked to remove my clothes and sit on a reclining examination chair, covered by a sheet.  The doctor uses a tool that looks like a round piece of clear glass with a molded frame.  Holding it like a magnifying glass, keeping most of my body covered as she checked each section, she quickly moved over my body.  She explained that the tool allows her to see irregular areas that deserve more attention.  After she scanned the front of my body, she asked me to turn over, and she scanned my backside.

She found three spots that she questioned, on the backs of my legs.  On two of the spots, she sprayed liquid nitrogen, freezing the skin so a scab will form and leave new cells underneath.  The liquid nitrogen does not hurt at all – it is done so quickly, you really don’t feel anything. You don’t even need a bandage, and I had trouble finding the spots after I left the office.  No big deal.

The third spot is tiny, and high on the back of my left calf, almost behind my knee.  I honestly have never noticed anything there, but really, who can say they see every inch of their body every day?  The doctor took a digital picture of the spot and showed it to me.  It looked like a little scaly pink spot or rough area.  If I felt it with my hand (I wouldn’t naturally have seen it), I probably would have scratched it to see what it was – a bite, a scratch, what?

The doctor performed a biopsy of this spot.  She injected a local anesthetic into the area (just a small needle poke, then no feeling at all), and when the area was totally numb, removed the questionable spot and a small bit of surrounding skin to be sent to a lab for analysis. She placed a regular size bandage on the spot, and I dressed and left the office. Because of the anesthetic, it didn’t hurt when she removed the skin, and didn’t hurt later.  The whole visit took about a half hour.

I was scheduled for a follow up visit a week later, to discuss lab findings.  I didn’t expect to have a positive finding.  I mean really, on the back of my knee?  How would the sun even find it?

And yet, a week later I got a call saying the biopsy was positive. The tiny spot is squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer). Left alone, this type of cancer will grow and can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly. The doctor said it looks like we caught this very early, and here’s the good news:  95 percent of cancers are treatable, when discovered and treated in the early stages.  So, I will be having Mohs Surgery, using a local anesthetic, in 10 days.

I didn’t want to go for the full body exam yet the doctor found early stage skin cancer and now will remove it.  So the answer is yes, I really do need to schedule regular full body skin exams from now on. And I will.

Read about Mohs Surgery in part two of this series, in the May issue of Healthy & Fit Magazine.


Kathy Kissman is the sales director at Healthy & Fit Magazine, and a former English teacher. She can be reached at (517) 599-5169.

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