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Full Body Skin Cancer Exams

Since skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and that’s why it’s important that most people have an annual full body skin exam. It should be performed by a skin care specialist who is trained to detect skin cancer at the earliest possible time, when there is the best possibility of a complete cure.  Although light-skinned individuals are much more prone to skin cancer, darker-skinned people are more likely to die from it. Thus, everyone, regardless of skin tone, should have regular skin cancer screenings.

Reasons Skin Cancer Has Become So Prevalent

Skin cancer is being diagnosed at an increasingly alarming rate due to several reasons: Ozone layer depletion from the atmosphere caused by global warming results in increased exposure of humans to damaging ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). Popular use of tanning salons or sunlamps further exposes individuals to more UV rays.  A “gorgeous tan” is not good for the skin.  Tans do not indicate good health, but rather demonstrate that skin cells have been harmed.  Repeated exposure to excessive UV rays has a cumulative effect on the skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer development.

Risk Factors for Skin Cancer

Although anyone can develop skin cancer, the following factors put you at a higher risk of developing some form of the disease:

  • Fair complexion
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Naturally blond or red hair
  • Skin that burns, freckles or reddens easily
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to sunlight during work or recreation
  • History of sunburns, particularly early in life
  • History of indoor tanning
  • Having a large number of moles, especially of certain types

Smoking also puts you at higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, one variety of skin cancer.

Classifications of Skin Types

People with the greatest likelihood of developing skin cancer are those with the fairest skin, though it must be remembered that even very dark-skinned people can develop, and even die from, skin cancer, so everyone requires skin check-ups.

Skin types are classified by numbers 1-6, according to tone and sensitivity to UV rays, number one being the most sensitive:

  1. Always burns, never tans
  2. Burns easily, tans minimally
  3. Burns moderately, can tan to light brown
  4. Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown
  5. Rarely burns, tans profusely to a dark shade of brown
  6. Deeply pigmented, never burns

Individuals with type 1 or 2 skin are most susceptible to damage by UV exposure.

Why Full Body Skin Cancer Exams Are Necessary

Even if you don’t have a special risk factor for skin cancer, it is important to have your skin checked periodically for suspicious lesions. This is necessary because: [1] dermatologists have the training and expertise to detect skin cancers at their earliest stages [2] dermatologists can most often distinguish suspicious skin lesions from other skin conditions and, if unsure, can do further testing [3] dermatologists can examine parts of your body that you cannot see, or are less likely to examine, such as your back, scalp, groin, or the soles of your feet and [4] dermatologists are able to detect precancerous regions and treat them before they become cancerous.

Signs of Skin Cancer or Precancerous Lesions

Many patients come into our office because they have discovered spots they are afraid may be cancerous. Signs that signal potential skin cancers should always be evaluated by a professional. Different types of cancers and precancerous cells have varying discernible patterns as follow:

Actinic Keratosis

The precancerous patches of actinic keratosis are typically smaller than an inch in diameter, and present as rough, dry or scaly areas, flat or slightly raised. Sometimes they may have a hard surface, like a wart, and they may itch. Color varies from pink to red or brown. Usually these patches appear on areas exposed to sunlight — face, ears, hands, neck, scalp, and forearms. A related precancerous condition, known as actinic cheilitis typically appears as scaly patches or ongoing roughness on the lips. Less commonly, actinic cheilitis can present as swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin, or prominent lip lines.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Signs of basal cell carcinoma may include two or more of the following:

  • Open sore that bleeds, crusts, or oozes for several weeks
  • Shiny, translucent pearly white, pink or red bump
  • Raised reddish patch that crusts or itches
  • Pink growth with elevated border and crusted indented center
  • Scar-like white, yellow or waxy area with poorly defined border

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma often announces itself by a crusty surface that may, left alone, begin bleeding. It may appear as:

  • A wart-like growth with a rough texture
  • A scaly, persistent, red patch with irregular borders
  • An open sore that persists for weeks
  • A raised growth with a rough surface and a central depression


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because of its ability to metastasize rapidly. This is why it is extremely important to detect melanomas at their earliest stage. The alphabet of melanoma detection is important to commit to memory:

  • A is for asymmetrical
  • B is for a border that is irregular or jagged
  • C is for uneven color
  • D is for diameter (larger than a pea)
  • E is for evolving (changing over a period of days or weeks)

Although all types of skin cancers or precancers mentioned should be examined and treated by a skilled dermatologist or skin care specialist, they are listed here in order from the least to most serious. Even so, since skin cancers are often difficult to distinguish from benign skin irregularities, as well as from one another, it is crucial to have a trained and experienced provider examine and evaluate your skin as part of your normal health routine.

What Exactly Occurs During a Full Body Skin Cancer Examination

BSI skin specialists are attentive to your needs and privacy during a skin cancer examination.  The provider will first ask you whether you have any particular areas you suspect are problematic. Then they will typically examine your entire body, including your scalp and the soles of your feet, for suspicious lesions. The focus of the exam will then target in onto the areas that you may have been most concerned about.

If the provider finds any region that deserves further action, in terms of being watched and re- evaluated, frozen, or biopsied, the provider will first measure the designated spot with a precise ruler, not just to record its size, but to compare whether it has grown when she performs a subsequent examination. Next, the provider will record its exact location and may take a photograph of the suspected lesion in order to remember its appearance in detail, when reexamining you at a later date.

Procedures that May Be Performed during a Full Body Skin Cancer Exam

If the provider detects an actinic keratosis (precancerous lesion) they may freeze it with a special spray to keep it from developing into a skin cancer. If the tentative diagnoses is a type of skin cancer, then a biopsy of the tissue will be performed, where a portion of the lesion is then sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination. It may take 1 to 2 weeks for the pathology results to be completed, after which the provider will inform you of the results and further treatment options, if any, are necessary.

There are several types of biopsies that BSI skin specialists may perform. The most common is an excisional biopsy during which the provider uses a small scalpel to remove an area of abnormal skin. The other two most common types of biopsies are a shave biopsy, in which a razor-type tool is used to remove layers of skin, or a punch biopsy, in which a circular tool is used to remove a small section of deeper skin tissue.

Typically, if the pathology report comes back as positive for a skin cancer, BSI specialists will perform a larger excision in order to remove all of the malignant tissue, or recommend a Mohs skin cancer procedure, or even an EBX, electronic brachytherapy, radiation therapy procedure.

BSI’s offices are designed to treat all types of skin problems, both health-related and cosmetic, from acne and rosacea to enlarged pores and wrinkles. Nevertheless, one of the most important concerns that BSI skin care specialists have is protecting your skin from skin cancer. We recommend you please come in to have a skin cancer screening at least annually, or more frequently if you are at especially high risk or already have a history of skin cancer.

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