How to check yourself for skin cancer

Check yourself for skin cancerMost individuals don’t know that one out of every five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime?  Fortunately, the majority of cases are curable if they are diagnosed and treated early, which makes early detection crucial. What can you do?  First, see your dermatologist annually for a full-body exam.  If you are someone that is at a higher risk, more frequent exams may be recommended.  Monthly self-skin exams at home are just as important.  Look for any spots that are new (Hey, what’s that?), changing (your spots shouldn’t change) or unusual (one of these things is not like the others) and if you find any of the following, get it evaluated by your dermatologist as soon as possible.

You may be asking what is a self-exam, and how do I perform one at home?  In a well- lit room using a full-length mirror and handheld mirror, start with your scalp and work your way down.  Starting with the scalp, have a friend or family member flip through every section of the scalp.  For those with thick or curly hair, a hairdryer may be helpful so the scalp can be adequately examined.  Moving down on to the face, inspect your nose, lips, mouth, and ears – don’t forget the back of your ears.  Check hands front and back and between fingers and under nails (remove nail polish).  Continue up the arms front and back using your full-length mirror for those hard to see areas.  Check elbows up to underarms, yes things can hide out here too!  Next, check your neck and work your way down to the chest and torso.  For females, make sure to check the underside of the breasts. Using your full-length mirror and handheld check back of the neck, shoulders, upper back, and backs of arms.  Scan lower back, buttock, and backs of legs. Use your handheld mirror to check around the genitalia and groin. Sitting down, examine the front of the legs and finish with ankles and feet, including soles and between the toes.  Make sure to check toenails (again, make sure polish is removed).

A great campaign developed by the Skin Cancer Organization is called “The Big See.”  The goal of this campaign aims to inspire individuals to get to know their skin.  Furthermore, it encourages you to look in the mirror and keep these three words in mind: New, Changing, or Unusual. Check it out here

The American Academy of Dermatology also has some great resources on their website on how to SPOT skin cancer.  Check out the link listed before for more information on what to look for and how to perform a skin self-exam.

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