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Many individuals go through life without ever making an appointment with a dermatologist. However, if skin cancer runs in your family, if you enjoy excessive tanning or exposure to UV rays, or if you have a lot of moles or birthmarks that have changed in color, shape, and size; you should consider conducting your own at-home skin exams, as well as talking to your doctor about getting periodic screenings from your doctor, or dermatologist. If you find a mole or marking that has changed in size, shape, color, and texture; or if the mole is bleeding, oozing, or crusting; you should consult a doctor right away.
Conducting a self-skin exam
A routine skin exam is a head-to-toe inspection of your skin, paying particular attention to any skin markings, moles, freckles, or birthmarks that have changed. You can conduct your own skin exam at home. Many folks find it most convenient to conduct when they’re having a shower. If you prefer, you can also get a good look from all angles while standing in front of a full-length mirror and using a hand-held mirror for those tucked away areas. During a self-exam be sure to check your body thoroughly from head-to-toe, particularly the following:
Also, don’t forget to use the hand-mirror to check in hidden away places that the sun can still reach, such as:
You know the surface of your skin and the existing freckles and moles better than anyone else. However, if you uncover a mole or marking that looks suspicious, it’s always wise to have it looked at by a doctor, who will conduct a similar head-to-toe inspection of your skin. Your doctor may also recommend periodic skin exams or refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in skin, nails, hair health and associated conditions.
Biopsying a melanoma
According to the American Cancer Society, the only surefire way to diagnose the presence of melanoma is with a biopsy. During a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample portion of all of a suspicious skin growth or mole for laboratory analysis by a pathologist. There are various biopsies that doctors use to diagnose melanoma. Your doctor will choose the biopsy depending on the size of your mole or growth, and if only part of all of the growth needs to be removed.
Typical biopsies include:
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