Home > Finding Melanoma Early: The Dreaded Skin Exam

Note: The following was written by Ken, a 37-year-old from New York, as an example of how one man got past his fear and embarrassment of undergoing a skin exam.

What I was worried about was the embarrassment related to having someone carefully examining every square inch of my body.

I became aware of the threat of skin cancer a few years ago when friends of our family lost a son to the disease. As a result, my mother insisted that I get a skin examination. However, I wasn't really worried about skin cancer. I wasn't worried about the virtually painless biopsy, either. What I was worried about was the embarrassment related to having someone carefully examining every square inch of my body. To make matters worse, the dermatologist to which I was referred was a woman, and the idea of having a female doctor look at my entire male body made me even more nervous.

So, with fear and trepidation, I made an appointment. At the visit, she biopsied a suspicious mole found in the middle of my back, which, thankfully, was found to be non-cancerous. To be honest, I couldn't quite bring myself to have her look everywhere at that first visit. I opted to keep my underwear on, which still allowed her to look at the sun-exposed areas of my skin. In our sun-worshipping culture, it's recommended that people get skin exams annually. So, when I recently noticed some new moles and blotches on my back and shoulders, and remembered that I hadn't been examined in a few years, I made another appointment.

I was still a little nervous when I showed up at the doctor's office early one morning for this latest appointment. The nurse led me into the exam room and handed me a gown to put on. She said that I could leave my underwear on, but I said that I'd like the doctor to look "there," too, because it's highly recommended you have your entire body examined; melanomas can appear in areas that are never exposed to the sun. She responded that it would be fine to remove my underwear if I'm comfortable with that, and left the room. I undressed and put on the gown. A few minutes later, my doctor came in and her congenial—yet very professional—manner began to put me at ease. She asked what my concerns were, and I told her about the new marks on my back. Then it was time for the exam.

It’s highly recommended
you have your entire body examined; melanomas can appear in areas that are
never exposed to the sun.

First, she had me sit on the exam table. She looked carefully at my back and arms and assured me that the marks were just normal ones caused by sun exposure. She then lowered the gown to my waist and looked over my chest and abdomen. (At this point I slipped my arms out of the gown to make a subsequent part of the exam go more smoothly, which I'll explain shortly.) Finding nothing wrong there, she had me stand up so she could look at my buttocks and the backs of my legs as I held my gown in front of me—probably a good idea since I was facing the door, and one never knows when a nurse could open the door to talk to the doctor!

The next area to be examined was the front of my body below the waist. This was the part that I had always feared, but this time, my modesty wasn't holding me back. She had me turn around, and since I had already slipped my arms out of the gown, it was easy for me to just set it aside on the exam table. This is entirely optional; it's fine to leave the gown on and just have the doctor lift it to continue the exam. As I stood there wearing nothing but my wedding ring, she examined my hips and thighs as well as my groin area. Now, this part is always dicey for men because it's easy to feel very self-conscious and have a uniquely male physical reaction, but this is very common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Anyway, the doctor carefully pushed my private parts to each side in order to get a complete view of the skin surface in that area. I can assure you that doctors know how to do this in a manner which does not cause any uncomfortable sensation. Remember, it's all in a day's work for a doctor accustomed to doing these exams.

Remember, it’s all in a
day’s work for a doctor accustomed to doing
these exams.

She continued the exam, focusing on the lower parts of my legs. We then began discussing the treatment of a wart on my right knee. We stood there for a few moments as she finished explaining how to treat the wart, and then I realized that she had picked up my gown and was holding it out for me. By this time I had already forgotten I was naked! I put the gown back on, and she had me sit on the exam table again. She finished the exam by carefully examining my feet, including the area between each of the toes. We discussed a couple of other concerns, talked about our kids, and then the exam was finished. I felt a great sense of triumph that I had finally conquered all of my anxieties about being naked in front of a female doctor, and in the future will be far less nervous about it. In fact, I don't think I even blushed!

I wrote this to keep others from being nervous and inhibited about having their skin examined. Skin cancer is a growing concern in the United States. It's estimated that 139,870 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2014. One of the main reasons people refuse to get these exams is embarrassment. Please do not let that stop you! You don't have to go to a doctor of the opposite sex, but on the other hand, many people, including myself, actually feel more comfortable doing that. Don't put it off! If I—a modest, conservative white male—can have this done, anyone can. Check your modesty at the door of the exam room and have a doctor check your skin.

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