How to Spot Skin Cancer?

If you can spot it, you can stop it!

What to look for?

  • basal cell carcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • malignant melanoma

Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. Look especially for change of any kind. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless but still dangerous.  Click here for the American Academy of Dermatology Spot Skin Cancer information.

Why self-exams are so important?

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, afflicting more than 600,000 Americans each year, a number that is rising rapidly. It is also the easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. When allowed to progress, however, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death.

Who should do self-exams?

You should! And if you have children, begin teaching them how at an early age so that they can do it themselves by the time they are teens. Coupled with yearly skin exams by a doctor, self-exams are the best way to ensure that you don't become a statistic in the battle against skin cancer.

When to do a self-exam?

Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. Do it often enough so that it becomes a habit, but not so often that it feels like a bother. For most people, an interval of three months is ideal, but ask your doctor if you should do more frequent checks. You may find it helpful to have a doctor do a full-body exam first, to assure you that any existing spots, freckles, or moles are normal or to treat any that may not be. After the first few times, self-examination should take no more than 10 minutes – a small investment in what could be a life-saving procedure.

Look for a new growth or any skin change. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see your doctor.

The warning signs

  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that has any of these characteristics:
    • Change in color
    • Increase in size or thickness
    • Change in texture
    • Irregular outline
    • Size larger than 6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser
    • First appearance when you are older than 21
    • Continuous itching, hurting, crusting, scabbing, eroding, or bleeding of a spot or sore
    • Failure of an open sore to heal within three weeks

Step-by-step self-examination

You'll need a bright light, a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, two chairs or stools, and a blow dryer.

Using one or both mirrors, examine your face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears. Thoroughly inspect your scalp using a blow-dryer to expose each section and a mirror to examine it. Check your hands carefully, including your nails. In the full-length mirror, examine your elbows, arms, and underarms.

Focus on your neck, chest, and torso.

Women, lift your breasts to view the underside.

With your back to the mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect your back and the back side of your neck, shoulders, upper arms, buttocks, and legs.

Check your feet, including soles, heels, and toe nails. Use a hand mirror to examine your genitals.

If you spot it, don't overlook it. Don't delay.

See a physician, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin, if you note any change in an existing mole, freckle, or spot or if you find a new one with any of the warning signs of skin cancer.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is especially hard to stop once it has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. But it can be treated in its earliest stages.

Protection stops it, too

Sunlight is responsible for over 90% of all skin cancers. You can avoid becoming a statistic if you practice these sun-protection habits:

  • Stay indoors or in the shade during the peak sunlight hours between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.
  • Use sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher and wear sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats, and protective clothing when you are outdoors.
  • Never deliberately seek a tan, whether from the sun or from artificial sources of ultraviolet light.