Sarah Cannon - April 12, 2021

Early detection is key for skin cancer. Starting at age 20, in addition to performing regular full-body skin self-exams, you should have skin exams by your doctor. Here is what you can expect at a full-body skin exam with your dermatologist.

Who performs the exam?

A dermatologist will typically perform a full-body skin exam. You can also contact your primary care physician to ask if he or she conducts full-body skin exams.

How long will the exam take?

Full-body skin exams are relatively short, ranging anywhere between 10-20 minutes. During that time, your doctor will examine your skin from head-to-toe. The timing of the exam may vary, depending on if the doctor performs a biopsy, which is a procedure to remove a small piece of skin for testing.

What should I wear?

You do not need to wear specific clothing, as you will receive a gown in the exam room to change into before the exam. It is important that you remove any polish from your fingernails and toenails so that your doctor can examine those areas. He or she will also examine your scalp, so try to wear your hair loosely or down if possible.

What can I do to prepare?

During your exam, your doctor may ask you questions about your family medical history, changes in your skin (familiarize yourself with the skin cancer alphabet!), sun exposure, and more. Your answers will help your doctor determine your personal risk of skin cancer, so take time before your appointment to prepare and think about any questions that you might also like to discuss during your appointment. If you note any changes, bring them to your doctor's attention immediately. 

Those at high risk for skin cancer include those with reduced immunity, personal history of skin cancer and a strong family history of skin cancer, talk with your doctor about your risk to determine a screening schedule that is right for you.

If you have questions about skin cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially trained to help with your cancer questions or visit askSARAH online.

It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.


Skin Cancer Foundation
American Cancer Society