Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. It's crucial to do a self-exam every month. If you're not sure whether what you're looking at might be cause for concern, or if you're worried that you're not doing your self-exam properly, use these tips to help you with the process.
Get to know the skin cancer guidelines
When it comes to skin cancer, it's all about paying attention to what looks different than other spots on your skin. Most of us have moles, freckles and other skin irregularities that aren't signs of cancer, but when there is a change, it's time to get an expert's opinion.
What are the changes listed in the skin cancer alphabet?
- A = Asymmetry (one half of the growth looks different than the other half)
- B = Borders that are irregular
- C = Color changes or more than one color
- D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
- E = Evolving; this means growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color
Skin cancer can come in many different disguises, appearing as:
- A thick and jagged scar
- A smooth, waxy bump or a firm red lump
- A dark (or black) bump that is waxy or shiny
- A dark patch on your palm or the bottom of your foot
- A dark band under your nail
When in doubt, check it out. If it is skin cancer, the sooner it's caught and treated, the greater your chances are for recovery.
Know where to look
Both basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are very common types of skin cancer. They often appear on skin that gets lot of sun exposure, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands and arms. However, both can also develop on less exposed areas such as the genitals or, in the case of SCC, inside the mouth or on the lip.
Melanoma is an expert at disguise, sometimes masquerading as a new mole and other times developing in an existing mole. It's critical that you know what moles you already have and what they look like, so you can catch changes or new arrivals.
Strip down to your birthday suit and use a mirror to examine less accessible areas of your body such as your scalp, back and buttocks. To help with this process, download the American Academy of Dermatology's body mole map from its SPOT Skin Cancer page. Note any changes and bring them to your doctor's attention promptly. Be sure to follow the rules to protect your skin:
- Visit your primary care physician or dermatologist once a year for a skin check.
- Limit your sun time.
- Skip the tanning beds.
- Use sunscreen and wear protective clothing.