A yearly full body exam is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. For patients with a history of skin cancer, a full body exam should be scheduled twice per year.
Full body exams are so important because they allow for the early detection of skin cancer. The doctor will look for new growths, moles, and other changes in the skin during this exam. Any moles that were already present will be documented again to keep track of any changes. Yearly full body exams allow the doctor to establish a baseline that will help them to identify issues and respond quickly when they arise.
Any spot on the body that changes size or color should be evaluated by the doctor as soon as possible. Spots that change in any way, including asymmetry, changing borders, patchy color, or increased size could be melanoma. Melanoma can be treated but it must be dealt with as soon as possible for optimal treatment results.
A biopsy may be needed when the full body exam reveals changes in the skin or new skin growths. There are many types of biopsies, but all of them are focused on harvesting a very small quantity of tissue to test it for cancer. In the case of suspicious skin growths, a punch biopsy is the method used most often. With this type of biopsy, the doctor uses a tiny round blade to get a circular piece of skin tissue for testing. The process is a very quick one and the patient usually experiences very little pain, as a numbing cream or other topical anesthetic is typically applied beforehand.
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