Are you at risk for skin cancer? Early detection gives you a better chance of recovery. In fact, when skin cancers are caught and treated in their earliest stages, they are highly curable. Those who are vigilant in examining their skin on a monthly basis can detect changes and seek medical help before a more serious problem develops. If you have not been self-examining your skin, Melanoma Awareness Month is the perfect time to start.
Self-Examination for Skin Cancer
Over 100,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year. The good news is, blood tests and X-rays are not necessary for early detection of skin cancer. You can check your skin for problems; all you need is a mirror and your eyes.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has guidelines for spotting skin cancer early. We highlight some of the AAD guidelines for spotting skin cancer early below. When examining your skin, you may want to keep your findings in a notebook, so you do not need to rely solely on your memory from month to month.
You will need a well-lit room, a hand mirror and a full-length mirror. The hand-held mirror is used to check areas like the back of your thighs. You can also enlist the help of a close relative or friend to help check your scalp and back.
The first time you do a self-examination on your skin, you are setting a baseline. Go over the entire surface noting pattern of moles, any blemishes and freckles you may have. Notice any marks on your skin and take special notice of areas of concern. These areas should be seen by your doctor.
What to Look For
There are many types of skin cancer, but the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is the most serious as melanoma tends to spread. Melanoma can develop in an existing mole, or it can appear as a new dark spot on the skin. Basal cell carcinoma is commonly found on bald scalp areas, ears, the face and neck area and other areas of the body that have been highly exposed to the sun. Carcinomas tend to look like a pearly bump or a rough red area that can be scaly or possibly bleed.
Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body but tends to be seen more often in the head and neck area, the upper back, and in the lower legs. The early warning signs of melanoma are important to know and are outlined below.
Learn the ABCDE warning signs of melanoma to help with finding this skin cancer in its earliest stages.
- A – These spots are asymmetrical. One side will differ from the other.
- B – If the border is irregular, scalloped or poorly defined, there may be a problem.
- C – Color will vary from one area to another. There may be shades of tan, brown or black or areas of white, red or blue.
- D – The diameter of early stage melanoma can be less than 6 millimeters. They can grow to be larger than that.
- E – Melanomas are evolving spots. They can change in size, shape or color.
The AAD has photos that will help you clearly identify problem areas when doing a self-examination.
How to Examine Your Skin
Your initial self-examination is going to be your baseline to which subsequent exams will be compared. Each time you examine your skin, note any changes. You can easily make this a monthly routine before or after you take a shower. Begin your exam by facing the full-length mirror.
- Face the mirror – check the entire front of your body, including your ears. Women with large breasts should lift them to check underneath.
- Check your arms – look at both sides of your arms and check underarm areas; thoroughly examine your hands, between fingers and under fingernails.
- Sit down to check your legs – look at your thighs, shins and feet. Check between your toes and under toenails.
- Using the hand mirror, check the bottom of your feet, the back of your calves and thighs.
- Stand with your back to the full-length mirror and use the hand mirror to check your upper and lower back.
- Do not forget to thoroughly check your genital area and your buttocks.
- Check your scalp by parting your hair with a comb.
Keep track of your findings and if you see any spots that seem abnormal or different, make a note to show them to your doctor.
If you have questions about a spot on your skin, call Olansky Dermatology Associates. Schedule an appointment for a consultation. Remember, early detection is key.