Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. One in five people is expected to get it at some point in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The good news is that when basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma cancers are detected early, they are highly curable.
Even melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has a five-year survival rate of 98 percent when it is treated before spreading to the lymph nodes. Self-skin checks are an important step in early detection.
What is a self-skin check?
During a self-skin examination, you'll examine your body from head to foot, looking for any suspicious spots or lesions. Make notice of any spots that have changed in size, color, or shape and look for any new spots, lesions, or growths. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone perform a self-skin check monthly and have a dermatologist conduct a skin check once a year.
How to do a self-skin examination
Gather items you need
To best perform an exam on yourself, you will need a full-length mirror, a hand-held mirror, a flashlight or bright light, a blow dryer or comb, paper and pencil, and two chairs. You might prefer to enlist the help of a skin-check buddy, so each partner can examine areas of the body on the other person not easily seen in a mirror.
Decide how you want to document any spots or abnormalities
The Skin Cancer Foundation has printable body maps where you can note the location of freckles, moles, birthmarks, bumps, sores, growths, or other spots. Be sure to notate the size, color, and shape of each. This makes it easier to notice any changes during future skin checks.
There are also several apps that you can download on your phone that will walk you through the skin-check process and allow you to take pictures to document spots and lesions:
Start with the front of your body
Look yourself squarely in the full-length mirror and check your face, paying close attention to your nose, lips, mouth, and ears. Examine your neck and work your way down your body. For women, lift your breasts to look underneath. Continue this inspection all the way down to your feet. Check your toenails and between your toes.
Turn to the side
Turn to each side, paying special attention to the outside of your arms, then lift your arm above your head to check your underarms. Inspect your hands the same way you did your feet, looking at your nails and in between each finger.
Check your back
Turn your body so that your back is facing the full-length mirror. Use the hand-held mirror to slowly look at your back, lifting your hair if necessary to see your neck. Check your back and the backs of your arms and legs. Move down to your heels, examining each area as you go. It is often easier to check one side of the back, arms, and legs, switch the mirror to the other hand, and then move up and down the opposite side.
Sit in the chair for hard-to-see areas
From a sitting position, use the hand-held mirror to check the bottom of your feet and your genitals. Some people find it easier to check their legs from this position rather than looking in the full-length mirror.
Inspect your scalp
Use a blow dryer or a comb to expose small areas of your scalp. Shine a flashlight or bright light to help you see under your hair and check your scalp for any unusual growths, bumps, or sores. Some people find this process easier if they enlist the help of a family member or friend and take turns checking each other’s scalps.
Make an appointment with your dermatologist
If you notice any suspicious spots, lesions, or growths, see your dermatologist as soon as possible.