Outside & In

Check-ups with your primary care physician should include a good look at your skin

What is the human body’s largest organ?

It’s a classic trick question because we immediately think of the heart, the liver or other unseen structures working hard below the surface. We tend to forget that the surface itself—our skin—is actually our largest organ.

This is a fact that Jennifer Kirkman, MD, of St. Joseph’s/Primary Care in Richmond Hill, wants her patients to remember.

“Much of the time, people look at their skin as an afterthought,” Dr. Kirkman says. “If nothing seems wrong, they feel there is no reason to look closely.”

Dr. Kirkman has noticed that her patients with eczema, a condition that cause dry, itchy skin, or psoriasis, which causes a scaly rash, have a sharper awareness of their skin health.

“Those patients tend to be much more in tune with their skin, even though it’s because they have a problem that needs treatment,” she says.

To help her other patients get in tune with their skin, Dr. Kirkman makes an annual skin check part of her practice. She will check for any changes or the development of anything that might become pathologic.

“Keeping on top of your skin is so important, especially if you have a lot of sun exposure or a family history of skin cancer,” she says. “I remind patients that we have to look at the spots where a problem might be hidden, such as between the toes, under skin folds or behind the hairline.”

Skin exams are not only to check for skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesions. What’s happening outside can sometimes be a sign of what’s happening inside.

“Other diseases can be associated with skin findings,” Dr. Kirkman says. “So the skin exam can help with your internal medicine workup as well.”

Catching skin problems early also means that Dr. Kirkman can treat it immediately as part of an office visit.

“We have everything from topical creams to different kinds of medication,” she says. “We can do a lot for your skin health as primary care physicians. But the first step is to get you on a routine of getting a close look at your skin every year.”

To learn more about different types of skin cancer and what you can do daily to protect yourself, click here.

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