Do you do an annual skin exam?

Family Health
May 2, 2023

St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care Physician Dr. Jennifer Kirkman explains full-body skin exams and what she looks for

If you are over 40, you may want to talk to your primary care physician about annual skin screenings or start seeing a dermatologist if you do not do so already.

Our skin goes through various stages throughout life. As babies, we may have frequent rashes. As adolescents – and unfortunately sometimes beyond – there’s the dreaded acne. When you reach 40, the concern becomes precancerous and cancerous lesions, especially in the South with our intense and frequent sun exposure and honestly our lack of consistent sunscreen use.

Dr. Jennifer Kirkman is a primary care physician at the St. Joseph’s/Candler Richmond Hill office. She did extra training in dermatology, and it’s one of her passions. She does an annual full-body skin exam on all her patients 40 and older.

“As we age, we develop skin tags, precancerous spots and cutaneous horns. We can get rid of those lesions because they can be bothersome. They can be painful, and some can get infected or grow to be cancerous,” Dr. Kirkman says.

During her exams, she uses a dermatoscope, which is a scope of magnified glass and a light. It helps her determine if pigmentation is abnormal or normal. She also looks for raised lesions, inflamed skin and uncharacteristic texture to the skin. If the patient consents, Dr. Kirkman can remove the lesion or area of skin right in her office and send it off for pathology.

Biopsies are usually very well tolerated, Dr. Kirkman says. Most can be performed in office in a 15-mintue appointment. Lesions can be removed several ways including shaving them off if it’s superficial, or with a punch biopsy for skin thickness, or cutting the entire lesion out, all of which is done under local anesthesia so you shouldn’t feel a thing.

Pathology typically takes one to two weeks, and Dr. Kirkman calls each patient with the results.

Home skin exams

Dr. Kirkman also encourages her patients to check their skin at home at least once a month. Most of us know where our skin spots or moles are located. She says to look for any changes in size – especially if they are getting bigger – texture and color. If you notice anything concerning, call you primary care physician.

So why is it so important to pay attention to your skin?

“Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It’s also the organ that is your first line of defense,” Dr. Kirkman says. “If your skin isn’t healthy, it’s likely your organs underneath aren’t going to be healthy either. So we have the barrier aspect of the skin, but also the skin aids in hydration, cooling and a lot of homeostasis function that people don’t think about. So it’s important to pay close attention to our largest organ.”

And don’t forget the sunscreen if you are outside, Dr. Kirkman stresses. She recommends SPF 50 or higher and it must have zinc in it. She encourages reapplying every hour.

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