A melanoma survivor's tips for finding a dermatologist
As a melanoma survivor, I know how important it is to find the right dermatologist. After all, I've spent my fair share of time doing just that. My husband is in the Army, and we move often. Each time, I have to find a new dermatologist. It is one of the most stressful parts of moving around for me. It takes a while to build mutual trust.
But I've been fortunate to find some really great dermatologists who listen to my concerns and whom I trust to find any abnormal moles that could lead to skin cancer recurrence.
Here's what I look for in dermatologists:
Are they listening to me?
Like really listening. I spotted the abnormal mole that led to my original melanoma diagnosis. It was just a gut feeling. No, I'm not a doctor, but I do know my body and expect my dermatologist to at least listen and acknowledge my questions and concerns. In the same breath, however, I need my dermatologist to hear me when I say I'm anxious. I would have them remove all of my skin if that were a possibility! So, I also need my dermatologist to rein me in and help me determine what really needs to be examined or removed.
Are they using their eyes and hands to examine my skin?
This was a tip I learned from my oncologist at MD Anderson. Good dermatologists cover every inch of your skin with not only their eyes, but with their hands as well. Skin cancers can present as tiny flesh colored bumps under the skin that can only be discovered by touch.
I also want my dermatologist to use other tools to get a better look at any atypical moles. I like to see the -- careful, I'm about to get super technical here -- handheld magnifying glass-like thingy. As my oncologist explained it, this gives a more clear look at borders, color, etc.
Look for a dermatologist focused on skin cancer or melanoma.
It probably goes without saying that I look for a dermatologist with a skin cancer specialty or extensive experience with melanoma, not a cosmetic dermatologist.
What is the dermatologist's style as a physician?
Is the dermatologist conservative when it comes to taking off abnormal moles? Aggressive? Is he or she going to take everything off, or just wait and see? Personally, I like a healthy balance of the two styles. It just depends on what's best for you and where you're at in your skin cancer journey.
Is the lab in-house, or does the dermatologist send pathology elsewhere?
This one doesn't matter as much, but it can impact how long it takes to get your results. If I have a mole removed and the lab is in the dermatologist's office, I may only have to wait a day or so. If I have a mole removed and it needs to be sent out to a lab, hearing back could take over a week. Waiting on pathology results is nerve-wracking, so I like to limit that as much as possible.
How accessible is the dermatologist to me?
If I wake up one morning and decide I have a mole that has changed or something and I want to be seen, how long will it be before I get an appointment? Can I email with questions? Accessibility is so important to me!
I hope these tips help you find the right dermatologist for you. After all, a good dermatologist can be your ally in preventing melanoma and other types of skin cancer, or catching them early, when they're easiest to treat.