Even if you have carefully practiced sun safety all summer, it's important to continue being vigilant about your skin in fall, winter, and beyond. Throughout the year, you should examine your skin head to toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions. Self-exams can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured.
First, for a successful self-exam, you obviously need to know what you're looking for. As a general rule, to spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don't heal are also alarm signals.
It is so vital to catch melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, early that physicians have developed two specific strategies for early recognition of the disease: the ABCDEs and the Ugly Duckling sign.
Do You Know Your ABCDEs?
The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. That's why it's so important to get to know your skin very well and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body. Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and if you see one or more, make an appointment with a physician immediately.
The Ugly Duckling Sign
This method is based on the concept that these melanomas look different — they are "ugly ducklings" — compared to surrounding moles. The premise is that the patient’s “normal” moles resemble each other, like siblings, while the potential melanoma is an “outlier,” a lesion that, at a given moment in time, looks or feels different than the patient’s other moles, or that over time, changes differently than the patient’s other moles.