You’ve finally decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening but you are a bit worried and don’t know what to expect. If your visit is for a skin screening, it will probably be a brief visit but if you have specific concerns or have noticed lesions or changing moles, the visit may take a little longer.
Preparing for the Visit
You can help your doctor better understand what is going on by taking a few steps before the visit:
- Remove all nail polish from your fingernails and toenails.
- Perform a full self skin screening and note any new or changing moles or other growths. Write down if they are itchy, bleeding and if they have changed. Note when you first noticed the lesion or mole.
- Write down your medical history; include any family members have been diagnosed with skin cancer. Make sure to include information about exposure to UV light, such as using tanning beds, working outdoors or previous sunburns.
- Write down all medications you are currently taking. This includes over-the-counter medication, vitamins and supplements. All of your doctors should be aware of all medications you are taking to avoid possible interactions.
- Be prepared for your doctor’s questions. He may ask:
- When did you first notice the growth/lesion?
- Has it grown significantly?
- Have you been previously diagnosed with skin cancer?
- Have any family members been diagnosed with skin cancer?
- Did you spend a lot of time at the beach/pool when you were a child?
- How much sun exposure do you get on a regular basis?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with any type of cancer?
- Have you received radiation therapy for any medical condition?
- Are you now, or have you, taken medications which can suppress your immune system?
- Do you smoke?
- Have you had exposure to pesticides/herbicides in your work?
- What precautions do you take when you go out in the sun?
- How often do you do a self-skin exam?
- What types of skin products do you use on a regular basis?
- What is your occupation?
Being prepared with answers to these questions will help your doctor better understand your situation and better treat you.
During the Examination
If this is your first visit to this doctor, you will probably be asked to fill out a number of forms when you arrive. Some of this will be listing your medical history as well as any serious medical conditions of close family members. If you used the preparations listed previously, you should have this information readily available.
Once you are brought into the examining room, you will be asked to remove all of your clothing, including shoes and socks, except your undergarments. You will be given a hospital gown to wear during the exam.
Your doctor will do a thorough exam of your entire body. This includes in between your fingers and toes and along your hairline. During an initial exam, the doctor will take pictures or write down the size, shape, color and type of freckles and moles on your body. This way, on follow up examinations the doctor has a reference point and can quickly see if there are any changes.
If your doctor is concerned about any lesions or moles, he may look at it through a strong light and, if he feels it is necessary, perform a biopsy. This usually consists of the doctor numbing the area and then shaving off some of the lesion for review in a laboratory. If this happens, you will need to wait several days for the results and if it is found to be cancerous or precancerous, you will need to make a follow up visit for removal or treatment.
A first visit skin exam will probably take about 20 minutes for the doctor to complete if he doesn’t find any lesions/moles that require additional attention. Annual exams after that will probably take less time, maybe about 10 minutes.
"Make the Most of Your Visit to the Dermatologist," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation
"Preparing for Your Appointment, Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Mayo Clinic
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.