My First Skin Cancer Check
By Kasia Wind
There’s nothing comfortable about standing in front of a complete stranger in your birthday suit.
But, as I found myself doing this exact thing at a dermatology clinic last week, my uneasiness over my exposed parts was trumped by the knowledge that I was doing something potentially life-saving.
I was in the middle of my first-ever head-to-toe skin check, and I wasn’t going to let a little bare-butt stop me.
Initially, I requested for the dermatologist, a lovely woman in what looked to be her thirties, to have a closer look at a suspicious mole on my left thigh.
It was bigger and darker in color than the rest of my moles, and the more I looked over it at home and searched “deadly thigh moles” on Google, the more convinced I became that (a) I had skin cancer, and (b) my mole strangely resembled the face of a pop star.
In my research, I also came across a staggering statistic from the Canadian Dermatology Association: Up to 70 percent of melanomas are first identified by the patient (53 percent) or close family members (17 percent).
Was I on to something?
I decided that this was business better left to the hands of a professional.
In her office, my new dermatologist looked over my thigh mole with a magnifying instrument and told me that it didn’t appear suspicious. Insert sigh of relief. She informed me that it’s common for moles to come in a variety of colors and diameters, and that this particular spot wasn’t putting my health in danger (she didn’t comment about whether it did, in fact, look a bit like Bryan Adams.)
Just when I thought I was done with the appointment, the dermatologist asked me whether I’d like to have a full body spot check done. She said she recommends her patients have one performed every year and that it would only take about 10 minutes.
Why not? I thought. I can’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon than to have someone scrutinize my bare body with a magnifying glass. Yes, please!
A minute later, I found myself naked, swiveling in small quarter-turns that amounted to a full 360 degree turn, while the dermatologist moved her magnifying instrument over the moles on my calves, arms, chest and back and hummed under her breath.
She checked the bottom of feet and my scalp – two areas I didn’t ever think to check at home.
I tried to decipher the notes of her hums to mean either “all good” or “OMG!” but she was good at not letting on as to whether I was passing or failing the screening.
Throughout the check-up, the dermatologist asked me questions about my history of sun tanning and sun care and marked the location and characteristics of my moles on front/back diagrams of a human body. I called this illustrated person Little Mole Me.
When the check-up was completed, the dermatologist assured me that all of my moles looked harmless, but that it was possible to remove the bugger on my thigh, for assurance or for cosmetic reasons (although it would scar).
From her notes and diagrams, she left me with a “mole map” of my body – a useful tool that can be used later to compare future results and to chart changes over time. She also gave me a pamphlet that outlined the markers of a truly “suspicious mole” that I could take home and be anxious over.
At the end of the appointment, I was glad I went through with the full check-up. I felt more in control of my health, knowing that whatever I decided to do about the thigh mole, this dermatologist would have me covered – not literally, but you get the idea.
Get a yearly mole check at your dermatologist’s office–it can save your life. If skin cancer is found early, the survival rate may be 99% but it can drop to 15% if it is discovered in the later stages. Watch this video for how to perform a self-exam at home.