From Head to Heel
Coastal Skin Surgery & Dermatology provides details on skin exams
Your skin is not only the largest organ, it’s also the most exposed, making it susceptible to the sun’s rays and environmental factors. With your skin being a valuable and viewable organ, it’s vital to have a yearly skin exam.
Coastal Skin Surgery & Dermatology encourages patients to have their skin checked at least once a year beginning in your early 20s. By this time, your skin has likely experienced significant sun exposure, especially for Floridians.
Cases of pediatric melanoma are rare, but children should have skin exams conducted if they develop new moles or the family has a history of melanoma.
When visiting the clinic for a skin exam, you will be asked about your use of sun protection and what UV exposure you’ve experienced throughout life such as multiple sunburns, use of tanning beds or significant time spent in the sun. From there, you will be asked about any moles or concerning spots you might have noticed.
The physician assistant or dermatologist will start at the top of your head and work their way to your feet — examining the skin for any moles, spots or skin lesions, then checking for the ABCDEs, explained Jennifer Edwards, physician assistant with Coastal Skin Surgery & Dermatology.
A is for asymmetry, checking to see if the mole or lesion is symmetrical or has differing halves. B is for borders that may be scalloped or irregular in shape. C is for color, noting if the spot had varying colors from one area to the next like shades of brown, black, red, blue or white. D measures diameter, anything larger than a pencil eraser deserves a closer look. E is for spots that evolve, appearing different or changing in size, shape, color or texture.
Outside of skin exams, patients are encouraged to call their dermatology office anytime they notice a change, evolution or arrival of a new skin spot. Edwards suggests doing monthly at-home skin checks using the ABCDE method.
“I would rather a patient call about a concern and be able to put their mind at ease than ignore it and it become a problem,” said Edwards.
Edwards often shows patients photos of what concerning moles look like or encourages them to Google images. While this knowledge is helpful, the yearly appointment is still necessary. Melanoma, often referred to as the “great mimicker” and appearing benign, might only be detected by someone trained in dermatology. During skin exams, this deceptive and dangerous skin cancer is a chief concern, as it can be treated effectively if detected early.
Not every cause of melanoma is known, but certain risk factors include damage from environmental factors and UV rays, a history of multiple sunburns, genetics, a family history of melanoma, history of atypical moles, weakened immune systems and the presence of more than 50 moles.
Edwards aims to ease any nerves by explaining every step she will take in the exam process and by keeping conversation light in nature. Should any areas of concern be identified, next steps will be addressed for your care plan.
To prevent melanoma and other skin cancers, Edwards recommends a mineral sunscreen composed of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect rays. Sunscreen should be at least 30 SPF, and reapplied every two hours, more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.
Edwards also encourages patients to invest in sun protective clothing, broad brim hats and long-sleeve, light-weight shirts when spending extended periods outdoors.
“No matter your past or where you are in your skin journey, we want patients to feel comfortable coming in and becoming educated on their skin,” said Edwards. “You’re taking all the right steps just by coming in. A once a year skin check can make all the difference.”