Getting a Yearly Skin Check as an IBD Patient on Biologics

Last updated: January 2023

Though I don't have a lot of moles or other markings on my body, my gastroenterologist advised me to get a skin check every year. The reason for this, according to him, is that being on biologics can increase a patient's risk of skin cancer. Skin checks can help catch skin cancer early and ideally allow physicians to treat it effectively.

While it is unfortunate that some biologics can increase the risk of skin cancer, I choose to remain on infliximab because it has really helped my ulcerative colitis. So, every year I schedule and go to my annual skin check.

Preparing for an annual skin screening

The first time I got a skin check, I was worried about what it would entail. It turns out the process is easy and quick.

Typically I meet with the doctor first to see if I have any dermatological concerns. This is a great time to mention any areas on my skin where I am seeing discoloration or a new mole or marking. Once we go through that, it is time for the skin check to actually happen. After the doctor leaves for my privacy, I undress, put on the paper gown, and wait for the doctor to come back.

What is it like to get a full-body skin check?

At this point, the doctor comes back and takes a look at every inch of my skin. This can be uncomfortable, but I remind myself that it is important that they look everywhere. Skin cancer can occur in even the most private of areas. This is why I picked a dermatologist I trust and feel comfortable with, and I always know I can request a second member of the medical staff to join us as well if I need an observer to make sure my dermatologist is treating me ethically.

Overall, this is a careful and thorough examination, but it is quick, especially in my case, because I am generally "not a mole-y person" as my dermatologist says. However, if I did have more moles the doctor might document these by measuring them and taking photos of them prior to completing the skin check. This documentation would create a baseline for us to go back to every year. If the moles got bigger or looked strange compared to the year before, we would consider biopsying them to make sure everything is clear.

Self-exam at home

After I finished my recent skin check this year, my doctor gave me a good reminder. He said, it's great to do a yearly skin check with me, but the best skin check is the one you give yourself from time to time. He explained that sometimes patients feel like checking once a year will completely protect them from skin issues, but that isn't always true. New moles or signs of skin cancer can develop at any point between annual skin checks.

My dermatologist recommended messaging him whenever I saw something out of the ordinary. In his view, it is better to be safe than sorry – and with the messaging platform he uses, I can just send him a photo of anything I'm concerned about and he can tell me what our next steps are.

Being on biologics for Crohn's or colitis

For those Crohn's and ulcerative colitis patients who are on biologics, it may be worth checking in with your gastroenterologist to see if an annual skin check is appropriate for you. Overall, this is a quick and easy way to protect one's health and stay on top of any possible future issues.

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