The 10-minute self-check that could save your life

Self-exams can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer Photo credit: PreventCancer.org

Self-exams can alert you to changes in your skin
and aid in the early detection of skin cancer
Photo credit: PreventCancer.org

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, afflicting more than two million Americans each year, a number that is rising rapidly.

But the good news is that it’s also the easiest to cure – if diagnosed and treated early.

This is why the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly head-to-toe skin self exams, so you can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous.

“Checking your skin for skin cancer only requires your eyes and a mirror,” said Thomas E. Rohrer, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chestnut Hill, Mass. “Examining your skin only takes a few minutes, but it could save your life.”

If You Can Spot It, You Can Stop It

Here’s a step-by-step guide for checking your skin, which should take no more than 10 minutes:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror and start by looking at the front and back of your body.
  2. Raise your arms and examine the right and left sides of the body.
  3. Bend your elbows, looking carefully at your forearms, upper underarms and palms.
  4. Next, examine your entire leg (don’t forget backs, soles and between toes!).
  5. Then, examine hard-to see areas like your back, buttocks and top of head.
  6. Use a mirror to inspect the back of your neck and scalp, parting hair for a better view.

ABCDE’s of Melanoma

The American Academy of Dermatology’s recommends seeking treatment if any of your moles exhibit the following signs:

a-asymmetryA – Asymmetry: Normal moles or freckles are completely symmetrical. Be suspicious is one half of the spot is unlike the other half.

b-borderB – Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly-defined border, which could include blurry or jagged-looking edges.

c-colorC – Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown, or black, or with areas of white, red or blue.

d-diameterD – Diameter: Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm, or about the size of a pencil eraser when they are diagnosed, but they can be smaller.

e-evolvingE – Evolving: A mole or spot on your skin that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.

“Current estimates show one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, so it’s important to be familiar with your skin, especially your moles,” said Dr. Rohrer. “Catching skin cancer early is key for successful treatment, so check your skin regularly and see a board-certified dermatologist if you spot anything suspicious.”

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