Have you had your complete physical exam yet this year? If not, you might want to schedule one soon, as most medical insurance policies cover these types of exams once per year.
I know, I know, just the thought of going through a complete physical is enough to make some people uneasy. But the truth is that these complete exams are vitally important to your health, due in no small part to the full body skin examination that occurs at this time.
What Happens During a Full Body Skin Exam?
During your skin “check up,” your AFM physician will check all the skin over your entire body for abnormal (or in most instances, slightly abnormal) lesions, including moles and other types of growths, especially those that change shape or size, itch or bleed frequently, or don’t heal like other wounds.
But why do this in the first place? Because abnormalities like the ones described above may signify pre-cancerous skin lesions, three of the most common of which are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
The 3 Most Common Types of Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and kills about 10,000 Americans each year. Melanoma often appears after intense UV exposure that results in a sunburn, which damages your skin cells’ DNA and causes them to rapidly multiply and eventually form tumors. Many melanomas begin in moles, while others simply look like moles. Melanoma can also appear in a wide variety of colors, including skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue, and/or white.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Although melanoma may be the most dangerous form of skin cancer,basal cell carcinoma is considered the most frequently occurring. This occurs when the deep basal cells of your epidermis become damaged from UV exposure, and then experience uncontrolled growth and appear as “open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars.” The good news is that BCC rarely spreads to other parts of the body or becomes life-threatening.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
When compared to melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma falls into a sort of “middle ground” between the two. This is because, although SCC can lead to the appearance of “scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts” that can ultimately be very disfiguring, only about 2% of those diagnosed actually die from this form of skin cancer.
Regardless of the type of skin cancer though, according to Cancer.org, the success rates for individuals diagnosed and treated at very early stages is as high as 97%. This is the number one reason why you should have skin exams at least once per year. In fact, you can even do self-exams in between your visits.
What Happens After Your Full Body Skin Exam?
After your AFM physician has completed your full body skin exam, if any abnormal lesions are located which require further analysis, an easy procedure called a skin biopsy may be performed. Although this may sound a little intimidating, the truth is that it only relates to removing a small section of skin that contains the lesion, and then analyzing this sample under a microscope for any signs of cancer.
In the vast majority of cases, skin biopsies take very little time and do not interfere with patients’ daily routines. Also, contrary to what you may have been told in the past, skin biopsies will not trigger the growth or spread of skin cancer.
Once your skin biopsy has been examined by your AFM physician, if everything looks normal, then no further treatment will be required. However, if the biopsy comes back abnormal, the then lesion will either be watched closely or excised, depending on your specific diagnosis.
Have Questions or Concerns About Skin Exams or Skin Cancer?
If so, be sure to count on the professionals at Advanced Family Medicine. Contact us today at (425) 453-6838 to schedule your appointment, and we’ll be more than happy to walk you through the process and address any of your concerns.