WHY SELF-EXAMS ARE SO IMPORTANT
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, afflicting more than two million 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 It
You should! And if you have children, begin teaching them how to at an early age so 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 It
Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. It should be done often enough to become a habit, but not so often as to feel like a bother. For most people, once a month 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 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.
What to Look For
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and 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 dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.
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:
- changes color
- increases in size or thickness
- changes in texture
- is irregular in outline
- is bigger than 6mm or 1/4", the size of a pencil eraser
- appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks
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.
Protection Stops It, Too
About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Since its inception in 1979, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended using a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. Read our full list of skin cancer prevention tips.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.