Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States and is also the easiest to cure - especially when found and treated early. Self-examination helps you be alert to any changes in your skin. If you are at risk for skin cancer performing a simple 10 minute self-examination once a month is usually enough, but you should talk with your doctor, he may suggest self-checks more often.
The following tips can help make sure your self-examinations are effective at spotting any possible skin cancer lesions:
- Talk with your doctor about any existing spots, moles or lesions when you first start self-checks to find out if any require any treatment or further testing. Paying attention to any existing skin spots will help you notice any differences from month to month.
- Use a body map to keep track of any spots you notice. Create or download a simple drawing of a body. Note where you notice any spots and place a mark on the drawing. Make notes of the color and size. Write down the date. Once a month use the same drawing and note if there are new spots or if any of the existing spots have changed.
- Complete your self-examination in a room with good lighting and a full length mirror. Have a hand-held mirror handy to check hard to see areas of your body. Examine one area of your body at a time. Check each area carefully, including ears, lips, scalp on your face. Use your hand-held mirror to check your back, shoulders, buttocks and the back of your legs.
- Know the early warning signs of melanoma. The American Cancer Society developed the ABCDE method of looking at moles: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Evolving.
- Look at existing moles or lesions as well as noting an new ones. Skin cancer can develop from an existing mole or it can develop as a new mole or may start as a lump or patch of dry, rough skin so be aware of all changes that have developed.
- When examining your scalp, use a blow dryer to separate each section and use a mirror to view each section. If this is difficult, ask a friend or relative to help look at your scalp.
- Check your hands and feet, paying attention to in between your fingers/toes, under your fingernails/toenails and on the palms and soles of your feet.
- To check your legs, use two chairs. Sit on one chair and prop your leg on the other chair. Examine the front, back and sides of each leg, starting at your foot and working your way up to your thigh.
- Pay attention to the color of any moles or growths. Those that are translucent, pearly, multicolored or are increasing in size should be immediately brought to your doctor's attention.
Be sure to contact your doctor if you notice any spots, moles or lesions which have changed in shape, size or color or if you have new moles. By being proactive and doing regular self-checks, you will be alert to any changes and improve your chances of a successful recovery, should you discover any lesions that may be skin cancer.