Skin cancer can take over 20 years to develop, but some melanomas grow much more quickly. Unlike other forms of cancer that hide beneath the surface, the first signs of skin cancer are often external physical symptoms.
Performing a self-examination is easy, and it only takes 10 minutes. Just follow the steps below, courtesy of the dermatologists at skincancerguide.ca:
Step 1. What To Look For
You know your skin. You’ve spent your whole life in it. You know your freckles, birthmarks, and moles like the back of your— well, yeah, like the back of your hand.
When checking your body for skin cancer, the goal is not to simply look for the sudden emergence of new melanomas. Keep your eyes peeled for changes. Any irregularities or change in the shape, edge, colour or size of your preexisting skin markings (your freckles, birthmarks, moles, etc) can be warning signs.
Step 2. The ABCD’s of Melanoma
When checking your freckles, birthmarks, and moles, remember the ABCD’s of melanoma:
Asymmetry: Healthy moles tend to be round and symmetrical. Early melanomas tend to be asymmetrical. If a line divided through the middle of your mole doesn’t create equal halves, consult your doctor.
Border Irregularity: Healthy moles usually have fairly smooth and even borders. Early melanomas tend to have uneven borders and rough edges.
Color Change: Moles usually start out brown. Be on the lookout for varied shades of brown, tan or black are often the first sign of melanoma. Red, white and blue can be symptoms of a more advanced melanoma.
Diameter: Does that mole on your knee look like it’s getting larger? It could be an early melanoma. Early melanomas tend to grow larger than common moles — generally to at least the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm, or 1/4 inch, in diameter.) That said, do not dismiss moles that are small but display other symptoms. The smaller the mole, the more treatable it will be.
Step 3. Check Your Skin
Examine every inch of your skin for the ABCD’s. Check your head. Move your hair to examine your scalp. Check your hands, including your nails. Check your elbows, arms, and underarms. Look closely on your neck, chest and torso – check under your breasts if you are a woman.
Step 4. Check The Hard-To-See Areas
Use a mirror to examine the hard-to-see areas like the back of your neck and shoulders, your upper arms, legs, back, buttocks, and genitals. Sit down and examine your lower legs and feet, including nails, heels, and soles.
Step 5. Self-Evaluate
If you noticed any melanoma symptoms, consult a doctor as soon as possible. If your skin appears to be healthy, take photographs or make mental notes of your your freckles, birthmarks, and moles so you can monitor changes.
Congratulations, you’ve completed your first skin cancer self-examination! Not too difficult, was it?
You should perform a self-exam every three to six months. Since humans tend to be forgetful, we suggest adding self-examinations to your calendar. Regular self-examinations may seem like a chore, but remember: 10 minutes could save your life. Skin cancer kills thousands of people every year, but when found in its early stages, it is very treatable.
*Note: Self-examinations should always be performed in conjunction with regular dermatologist and doctor visits.