One of my “Random” Goals in life is to visit a Dermatologist and get my skin, moles, etc. checked out. I set-up an appointment a couple of months ago, and *ta-da*, I recently had my first dermatology appointment. As this was my first experience, I chose a Dermatologist in the area that came recommended from friends. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but it was very much like any other doctor visit. The Dr. came in and asked for a little bit of my family history, and then asked my reasoning for the visit.
I explained that my dad was recently diagnosed and treated for Merkel cell arcinoma, and that it got me thinking about my own body. Therefore, I wanted to do a full body scan of my skin and moles – or whatever they normally do. The Dr. was glad I took the initiative to schedule an appointment, handed me a paper garment, and told me she’d be back in a few.
The exam itself was pretty quick – she looked over my hands, arms, neck, chest, and front of legs. She found a freckle on the inside of my index finger, and took out a magnifying glass for a closer look. She explained that sensitive areas such as the insides of hands and the bottoms of feet need to be closely monitored. Then she took a look at my shoulders, back, and back of legs. And then did a thorough search of my scalp. And finally a close look at my face. All in all – she found 3 moles that she was *mildly* curious about. Again, she took out her magnifying glass to take a closer look. She asked me how long I have had the moles…and I said for as long as I could remember.
What to Look For
The most important warning sign is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. If you have any of these warning signs, you should have your skin checked by a doctor. So what exactly should you look for? My dermatologist said to use the ABCD rule:
A – Asymmetry: One half of a mole does not match the other.
B – Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C – Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black.
D – Diameter: The spot is larger than 6mm across (about 1/4″ – or the size of a pencil eraser)
After discussing what she found curious about my 3 moles, she suggested I get them removed and sent for a biopsy. Cue the panic music! I am ashamed to say that my first thought was – do you really have to remove them? And then I thought – duh! that’s why I am here…to get everything looked at and get a professional opinion. I chose to remove the 3 moles. Two were from my rib area, below the breast, and one was on my forehead. The process was quick and efficient. I was given 3 little shots to numb the area – and within 5 minutes – snip, snip, snip. All 3 were removed. I was told that I would receive the results within a week.
That was a Friday. I received a call the following Tuesday. A call from the Dr. herself. Cue the panic music! She told me that all 3 moles displayed “low-grade dysplasia.” But then she continued to tell me that there were basically 4 levels: low, moderate, high, cancerous. And low-grade was ok…nothing to worry about. In simple terms, low-grade meant a few “pre-cancerous” cells within the entire mole. The risk of low-grade dysplasia transforming into high-grade dysplasia, and eventually cancer, is low. Treatment is usually straightforward: removal of mole. She said that the pathologist believed the entire mole had been removed in each case, and I was now fine. Just continue with my yearly checks.
Not all moles are skin cancer moles. Not everyone with moles will develop skin cancer, and it shouldn’t be something that people with moles should worry about or dwell upon more than is necessary. However, it is true that some moles do go on to develop into cancer, and it is important to be educated and aware of the signs.
It’s important to check your own skin, preferably once a month. You should know the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any new moles or changes in existing moles. A self-exam is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. A hand-held mirror should be used to help look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs.
Hope this helps if you are considering a trip to the dermatologist!