Skin Cancer: Self Examination

Dermatology A to Z


Good News about Skin Cancer: Prevention is SO easy!

A few easy steps can stop a tragedy.

When skin cancer is detected and diagnosed early, the chances are very good that it can be eliminated easily. The longer it goes undiagnosed, the more difficult a cure becomes. Treatment in the early stages can be as simple as a short office procedure, and very effective.

So, with that in mind, the American Cancer Society recommends that you examine yourself every month. Between age 20 and 40, in addition to monthly self-examinations, have a skin examination done by a dermatologist or physician every three years. After age 40, examine yourself monthly and have a professional exam every year.

How To Examine Your Skin

Become familiar with your own pattern of moles, freckles, blemishes, and birthmarks. Look out for changes in the number, size, shape, or color of spots on your skin or sores that do not heal. It’s easy to do after a shower or bath. Use a full-length and a hand mirror so you can check your skin from head to toe. First, face the full-length mirror and check your face, ears, neck, chest, and stomach. Then, check both sides of your arms and the tops and palms of your hands. Next, sit down and check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, and in between your toes. While seated, look at the bottom of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs first one leg, then the other. Use a hand mirror for the backs of your thighs. Third, stand up and use the hand mirror to check your buttocks, lower back, upper back, and the back of the neck.

Watch Out

The most important warning sign for skin cancer is a spot on the skin that is changing in size, shape, or color over a period of one month to one or two years. Other warning signs are:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • A new growth
  • The spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
  • Redness
  • A new swelling beyond the border
  • A change in sensation: itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • A change in the surface: of a mole scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a nodule.

The ABCDE Rule for Moles

Almost everyone has moles. The vast majority of moles are perfectly harmless. A change in a moles appearance is a sign that you should see your doctor. Here’s the simple ABCD rule to help you remember the important signs of melanoma and other skin cancers:

A is for:

One-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.

B is for BORDER:

The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.

C is for COLOR:

The color is not the same all over, but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of white, or blue.

D is for DIAMETER:

The area is larger than 6 millimeters (about 1/4 inch — the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.

E is for Evolving:

Any mole that begins to change in any way should be evaluated by a dermatologist.