The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends doing a monthly self-exam to check for signs of skin cancer.
Florida has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the United States. When you’re in the sun often, it’s important to keep yourself protected. It’s also important to conduct regular self-exams so you can identify anything suspicious before it can turn into something worse. Skin cancer is highly curable if caught and treated early.
Here’s tips on how to do your skin cancer self exam and what to look for.
How to do a skin cancer self exam
- Find a bright room with good lighting and a full-length mirror. You could even use a dressing room with a three-way mirror.
- Examine the front and back of your body in a mirror, then raise your arms and check each side.
- Remember to check places that are easy to miss, like your elbows, sole of the feet, and in between fingers and toes.
- Use a hand mirror to examine the back of your neck and scalp. If possible, get a spouse or friend to help you check your scalp. Only 6 percent of melanomas appear on the scalp, but they can be deadly because they often go unnoticed.
What to look for
Check all moles or other markings on the skin, keeping an eye out for anything that’s new or that has changed. When checking moles, use the acronym ABCDE to help identify anything suspicious:
- Asymmetry – Is the mole uneven or an odd shape? If you were to draw a line through the center, would the 2 sides match?
- Borders – A benign (non-cancerous) mole has smooth, even borders. The borders of a malignant mole tend to be uneven, scalloped, or notched.
- Color – Benign moles are typically all one uniform color. If you have a mole with a variety of colors — such as brown, black, or red — have it looked at by a dermatologist.
- Diameter – Look for moles that are larger in diameter than a pencil eraser.
- Evolving – Benign moles typically do not change over time. If you notice a mole that changes in size, color, texture, or shape, it could be a warning sign. Also pay attention if any moles itch, bleed, swell, or form a crust.
Other skin cancer symptoms
Not all types of skin cancer appear as moles. Look for any changes on the skin, new spots, or growth. Other warning signs include:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A pearly or waxy bump on the skin
- A flat lesion that resembles a scar or has a scaly surface
- A firm, red nodule
- Red or purple patches on the skin
- Firm nodules under the skin or in hair follicles
Make an appointment with a dermatologist if you notice anything that causes concern. Don’t wait to have a symptom checked out because you aren’t sure if it’s something to worry about. Skin cancer is almost always curable if caught early, and treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on May 10, 2017