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Making Self-Checks for Skin Cancer Part of Your Routine

25 May 2017

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One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, making skin cancer the most common cancer in the U.S. Most forms of skin cancer are curable if found and removed early; however, skin cancer can also lead to disfigurement and death. A simple way to help catch skin cancer in its early stages is to perform regular self-checks of your skin.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends examining your skin yourself every month. The first time you do a self-check may take a while, but once you’ve done it for a few months, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

What you need to perform a successful self-check for skin cancer

  • Bright light
  • Large mirror (preferably full-length)
  • Handheld mirror
  • Blow dryer
  • Somewhere to record notes like a notebook or cell phone

How to perform a self-check

Once a month, examine all of the skin on your body and take note of any spots like moles, age spots, birthmarks or freckles. Check your children’s skin until they are old enough to do it themselves. Stand in front of a mirror and look at the front, back, left and right sides of your body. Bend your arms at the elbow to check your forearms. Use a hand mirror to help you see places like the back of your neck. Use a blow dryer to move around the hair on your head to check your scalp. Look everywhere – that means under your arms, in between your fingers and toes, the bottoms of your feet and your scalp. Women should also check underneath their breasts.

Some parts of your body will be difficult to see. Asking your partner to help look over your body can be helpful. Partner-checks are also recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology as a way to catch skin cancer early.

Keep a record of any spots you see, so you can easily reference your current spots and see if any spots are new the next month.

Know you ABCs (and D and E)

An easy way to remember what to look for is to use the ABCDEs of Melanoma. Melanoma is the easiest cancer to cure if diagnosed and treated early. If you see one of these signs on a spot (like a birthmark, beauty mark, mole or any pigmented spot) on your body, make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

  1. Asymmetry – If one half of the spot is not like the other half.
  2. Border – If there’s not a defined border or if the border is irregular or scalloped.
  3. Color – If the color isn’t consistent throughout, is multicolored, translucent or pearly.
  4. Diameter – If it is larger than 6mm (size of a pencil eraser).
  5. Evolving – If it looks different from other spots on your body or has changed in color, texture, grown or changed shape.

Also pay attention to spots that are sore and continue to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed. Those spots also warrant a trip to the dermatologist.

Make skin checks a habit

Make a recurring calendar event on your phone to do your self-check or partner check. Another option is to always check on the day of the month that your birthday falls. So if your birthday is July 15, do your self-check on the 15th of every month. Or always do your self-check on the first or last day of the month. Try to make it a habit.

If you see something that’s concerning or you’d like to have your first check done by a professional, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

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