Who should examine their skin?
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, everyone should perform a monthly head-to-toe skin exam. It’s important to identify any new lesions or lesions that are changing that might represent a cancerous or precancerous condition. Early detection of skin cancer results in higher rates of cure. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can result in damage to cellular DNA, resulting in growth of cancerous cells.
How can I perform a thorough skin examination?
It’s important to prepare, and you’ll need a few things found in most homes, including a full length mirror, a bright light, a hand mirror, and your blow dryer. There is a “body mole map” available at the website of The American Academy of Dermatology, and you can download it here: It sometimes helps to have a friend or family member around to help with the exam. The exam should go from top to bottom, so begin by inspecting your scalp. Using your blow dryer and mirror, expose each section of your scalp and look carefully for any unusual lumps, spots, or areas of discoloration. Use your hand-held mirror to inspect the back of your neck, your shoulders and upper back, and the back of your upper arms. Stand in front of your full-length mirror and inspect your neck, shoulders, and arms, including the elbows and each side of your arms, including the underarm area. Beginning at the chest, examine your chest and torso. If you are a woman, you should lift your breasts to inspect the skin underneath. Examine the skin of your abdomen, before turning again in the full-length mirror to examine your low back, buttocks, and the back of both legs, using the hand-held mirror to provide a good view. Using a couple of chairs or a stool, prop one leg up at a time to examine your legs and feet, including the areas between the toes, under the toenails, and on the soles of your feet and heels. Examine your genitalia, using the hand mirror. Repeat again next month.
What am I looking for?
Self-examination is a good way to detect early changes in the skin, as you become familiar with your skin’s appearance. Some signs of potentially dangerous lesions or moles include:
Asymmetry: Is one half of the lesion unlike the other side?
Border: Is the border irregularly shaped or poorly defined? A scalloped border is another cause for concern.
Color: Variable color from one area of the lesion or mole to another is concerning. If you mole has different shades of tan, brown, black, white, red, or blue, you should consult your dermatologist.
Diameter: Skin cancer, particularly melanoma, is usually greater than 6 mm at diagnosis. This is the size of a small pencil eraser. Skin cancers can also be smaller at diagnosis, but unless you are looking, you won’t find it.
Evolving: This is where regular examinations can be helpful. Moles or skin lesions that appear to be changing are worrisome and should be evaluated by your dermatologist. Changes may occur in size, color, or shape.
These signs of potential problems are known as the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
There are different types of skin cancer
Although there are several different types of skin cancer, monthly self-examination will help you recognize any irregularities in your skin. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are less deadly than melanoma, but they can lead to disfigurement if they are allowed to spread. Basal cell carcinoma often looks like a pearly lump. Squamous cell carcinoma may look like an area of rough, red, and scaly skin, or it may resemble an ulcerated bump. Melanoma may develop from an existing mole, although it can appear suddenly without any warning. It can appear anywhere, including locations like the nail bed, and it spreads aggressively to the lymph nodes and internal organs, making early detection and treatment critical. Any change in a mole, bleeding, itching, or new moles that appear to be growing rapidly may be a melanoma and should be evaluated by a dermatologist.