Total Skin Exam

Fred M Novice MD is a board certified dermatologist and also a board certified dermatopathologist with a special expertise in the field of skin cancer. Skin cancer refers to the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Fortunately, many skin cancers are curable if detected with regular total body skin exams and treated early. Many skin cancers appear to be related to excessive sun exposure. The most common skin cancers are:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – the most common of all skin cancers. It tends to be slowly growing and frequently appears as a pinkish, translucent, pearly “pimple” that does not go away.  Basal cell carcinoma is frequently found on the face, trunk, and extremities. It can also look like a scaly patch or resemble a scar. Although this cancer can be quite destructive locally it virtually never metastasizes.

Squamous cell carcinoma– tends to be more rapidly growing than BCC. It may also rarely spread internally especially if located on the ear and lip. It presents as an enlarging scaly red plaque with poorly defined borders that may ulcerate. It may arise from actinic keratoses (“pre-skin cancer”).

Malignant melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the US; the incidence doubling every 10 years. Survival is directly related to early detection since prognosis depends on the tumor thickness. It may spread to the lymph nodes, lung, liver, brain and other skin areas if not discovered early and removed. Often, the patient will present with a change in an existing “mole” or a new brown, black or pink lesion which often shows irregular borders, varied colors and recent enlargement.

What to Look For

The American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following ABCDE guide for assessing whether or not a mole or other lesion may be becoming cancerous.

Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.
Border: The edges of the mole are irregular or blurred.
Color: The mole is not the same color throughout.
Diameter: The mole is larger than one-quarter inch in size.
Elevation: The mole becomes elevated or raised from the skin.