Summer showed up a bit late here in south Texas this year. It was 105 degrees outside this weekend, and any more than five minutes of being in the sun made me feel like I could already feel my skin starting to burn. For me this means some small changes to my day. Yard work is saved for around dusk, bottles of sunscreen can be found scattered all over my house, and outdoor activities require long sleeves. We all know by now how important it is to apply, reapply and reapply sunscreen when you're outside in the sun, especially during hot summer weather. We also know we need to make regular appointments with our dermatologist for thorough skin exams.
But did you know there is something simple you can do at home to help your doctor and yourself when it comes to your skin? Its called skin mapping, which according to Dr. Ross E. Levy, MD means "the mapping of a person's moles using total body photography. It can allow the patient and physician to follow individual moles over time to see if they are changing". Basically skin mapping is a way to be proactive about your skin care and keep your own record of developments that happen over time.
Many dermatologist offices use total body photography to help with skin mapping, but some insurance companies will only cover it if there is "1. a personal history of melanoma, or 2. a primary blood relative previously diagnosed with melanoma, or 3. multiple dysplastic nevi or atypical nevi, as determined by a clinical diagnosis performed by a pathologist or dermatologist" (ISDIS.net). So you're insurance may not cover total body photography. Surprisingly, there are also "no standards for TBP imaging that ensure the quality and interoperability of digital images" (ISDIS.net). Its a tale as old as time, as anyone who has experienced the American Healthcare System already knows.
But research shows one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. So what's a girl to do when you're trying to be proactive about your health? Luckily the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has published a guide for performing a thorough self exam and recording any abnormalities you may find.
Depending on how many freckles or moles you have, this could be a bit of a process the first go around. But you will have valuable information that can help you and your doctor in the future. According to the AAD, this is the best way to perform a skin cancer self-examination:
1. Examine body front and back in mirror, especially legs.
2. Bend elbows, look carefully at forearms, back of upper arms, and palms.
3. Look at feet, spaces between toes and soles.
4. Examine back of neck and scalp with hand mirror. Part hair and lift.
5. Finally, check back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
The AAD also has a list of warning signs to look for during your skin exam.
Asymmetry - One half unlike the other half.
Border - Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
Color - Varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
Diameter - While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
Evolving - A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
Record any moles or lesions that fall under these criteria. Take high quality pictures with your smart phone for reference down the road. You can find a printable version of the AAD's "Body Mole Map" here. The AAD recommends "if you find any spots on your skin that are different from others or are changing, itching, or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist". You can also learn more about skin cancer and find a free cancer screening by visiting SpotSkinCancer.org.
Have you or your doctor used Total Body Photography? Did this post inspire you to do your own skin mapping? Tell us in the comments below!
Written by Ashley Pettigrew
Follow Ashley on Instagram! @ashley.trisirena
The following sources were utilized in this article:
* American Academy of Dermatology. "How to Spot Skin Cancer". https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect/how-to-spot-skin-cancer. June 2017.
* American Academy of Dermatology. "DETECT Skin Cancer: Body Mole Map". file:///Users/ashleypettigrew/Downloads/aad-body-mole-map.pdf. June 2017.
* Levy, Ross M., MD. https://www.sharecare.com/health/skin-cancer-diagnosis/what-is-skin-mapping. June 2017.
* "Total Body Photography". International Society for Digital Imaging of the Skin. http://isdis.net/imaging-modalities/total-body-photography/. June 2017.