Guide to Performing Monthly Skin Cancer Self-Exams


Guide to monthly skin cancer self-exams

15 Minutes That Could Save Your Life…

With summer in full swing and the intensity of the sun’s UV rays at their peak, it’s a great time to talk about skin cancer detection and prevention. Many people are frightened when they hear the words skin cancer or melanoma; but when detected in its early stages, skin cancer is actually highly curable. While it is certainly important to have your skin examined regularly by a dermatologist, there are some things that you can check for at home.

Checking for Moles

Most moles are not dangerous, but there are some things you need to become aware of when examining them.  Moles that are of concern medically are those that appear after the age of twenty and look and feel different than other existing moles.

The best rule of thumb is to look for apparent changes in a mole’s color, height, size or shape. If you notice changes in a mole’s appearance, shape or size, or if you notice a mole that is bleeding, oozing or itchy, you should have it checked by a dermatologist. The same thing can be said if a mole appears scaly or if it suddenly becomes tender or painful.

When examining moles on the body, the most important thing to check for is a change in appearance. If you see any signs of a change in an existing mole or if you happen to notice a new mole, you should see a dermatologist.

The ABCDEs of Moles

The best way to check moles is to examine your skin with a mirror. You can also ask someone to assist you like a spouse or a friend. It is important to pay special attention to any areas of the skin that are often exposed to the sun such as the hands, arms, chest, face and ears.

Dermatologists like to refer to the analogy of the ABCDEs of moles because it is easy to remember. If a mole displays any of these characteristics when you examine it, you should have it immediately checked by a dermatologist because it could be cancerous.

  • A – Asymmetry. If one half of the mole is not symmetrical with the other half in size, shape, color or thickness.

  • B – Border Irregularity. If the border or the edges of a mole are irregular, blurred or ragged.

  • C – Color. The color or pigmentation of a mole should be uniform, not with shades of black, brown, tan, blue, red or white.

  • D – Diameter. The typical diameter of a mole should be the no larger than the eraser of a pencil.

  • E – Elevation or Evolution. If any portion of a mole appears elevated or it is raised away from the skin. Or evolution – if any changes occur in a mole.

These are all signs of moles that should be checked by a dermatologist.

How to do a self-check for skin cancer

An annual skin exam with a dermatologist is recommended.  But monthly self-exams are also recommended to look for any signs or changes. When caught early, most forms of skin cancer are curable.

Self-check procedure:

  1. Examine your face using a mirror to get a clear view. Check your skin, your nose, lips, mouth and ears front and back looking for subtle changes.

  2. Check your scalp next. You may need to use a blow dryer and a mirror to expose different sections of the scalp. Get the help of a family member or ask your hairdresser to check also.

  3. Check your hands and palms, making sure to look between the fingers and under the nails. Continue up the wrist and examine both the front and back of each of your forearms.

  4. Standing in front of a full-length mirror, check your elbows and your upper arms.  Don’t forget the underarms.

  5. Focus on the neck, the chest, and the torso next. Women should also lift their breasts and check the underside skin as well.

  6. Using a full-length mirror and a hand mirror, thoroughly inspect the back of your neck, your shoulders, the back of your upper arms and anything else you can comfortably examine or could not get to in the steps above.

  7. Continue this process using both mirrors scanning your lower back, your buttocks and the backs of both legs.

  8. Finally, sit down and prop each leg up on a stool or a chair. Using a hand mirror, examine your genitals as best you can. Also be sure to check the front, and the sides of both of your legs, top to bottom. Don’t forget your ankles, the top of your feet and between your toes and under your toenails as well. Last but certainly not least, be sure to examine the bottoms of your feet and your heels.

Advanced ways dermatologists can check for skin cancer

Mole mapping utilizing digital dermoscopy is one of the most advanced ways to detect and diagnose skin cancer. With the number of melanoma cases increasing significantly in recent years, this kind of early detection is extremely important. Mole mapping is a process that uses a medical camera that takes whole body photographs. This technology documents or “maps” the location of at risk moles by taking high-resolution microscopic photos. Using this technology, the data for each mole can be analyzed, measured and stored in a digital database. Follow-up visits are then compared to the original data to check for subtle changes. Detecting these very subtle changes using this kind of process is a wonderful way to catch cancer in its very early stages.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer around the world. The best form of treatment is early diagnosis and prevention, and this kind of technology makes it easy. The cure rate for early diagnosis is more than 95%, which is very promising.  If you have a history of skin cancer, or if you have a lot of moles, this kind of procedure may be suitable for you.

Some other things to consider if you are wondering if mole mapping is right for you are:

  • You have more than 50 moles on the body.

  • You have a family history of skin cancer.

  • You have already had a melanoma.

  • You find moles that are large, or more than 2 inches.

  • You notice changes in your moles.

  • You notice a new mole.

  • You experienced severe sunburn as a child or adolescent.

  • You have extremely sensitive or light skin.

Your risk of skin cancer can be greatly diminished if you continuously perform self-checks, visit your dermatologist for regular check-ups, and protect yourself from the sun using various sun blocking products. The best cure for skin cancer is early diagnosis and prevention. By performing regular self-exams, you will be in tune with your body and you will be sure to notice those subtle little changes. Always check in your dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.

About the contributor:

Lisa Rhodes, MD is a Board Certified Dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, an Austin, Texas based dermatology practice.

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Posted on by Shannon Smyth in anti-aging, beauty, Health, skin care 1 Comment

About the author

Shannon Smyth

Shannon began A Girl's Gotta Spa! beauty blog in 2005 to morph her love of beauty and in educating women on what truly works and what does not. She has been featured in Glamour, VOGUE Australia, Woman's World, Nail Pro, SHAPE and on WBRE's PA Live. She is a go-to source for social media consulting when it comes to beauty brands.