Learning how to do a skin self-exam could save your life.
“Skin cancer is one of the few cancers you can see with the naked eye,” said Dr. Ali Hendi, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“Yet sadly, many people don’t know how to be their own hero when it comes to skin cancer, including what to look for on their skin or when to see a board-certified dermatologist,” he added in an American Academy of Dermatology news release.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. One in five Americans develops skin cancer, and one person dies every hour from melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease.
To check your skin, use a full-length mirror to examine your entire body, front and back. Then, raise your arms and look at your right and left sides, Hendi said.
Bend your elbows and carefully check your forearms, underarms and palms. Look at the backs of your legs and feet, between your toes, and the soles of your feet. With nail polish removed, check your fingernails and toenails, as well.
Use a hand mirror to check the back of your neck and scalp, and part your hair for a closer look. Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror. Ask a partner to help check your back and other hard-to-see areas.
“While performing a skin self-exam, keep in mind that skin cancer can develop anywhere on the skin, not just in areas that are exposed to the sun,” Hendi said.
“If you notice any new spots on your skin, scalp or nails, spots that look different from other spots on your body, or spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist,” he advised.
Hendi also explained the ABCDEs of checking for melanoma.
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of a spot is unlike the other half.
- B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined edge.
- C is for Color: Colors vary from one area of the spot to another, from shades of tan, brown or black, for instance, or areas of white, red or blue.
- D is for Diameter: When diagnosed, melanomas are usually larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser), but can be smaller.
- E is for Evolving: The spot looks different or is changing in size, shape or color.
See a medical professional if you have any of these signs or notice an existing mole start to change in any way.
“When detected early, skin cancer, including melanoma, is highly treatable, making it imperative to check your skin regularly,” Hendi said. “It only takes a few minutes to check your skin, and it could save your life.”
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on skin cancer.