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.
The ABCDEs of Melanoma
A - Asymmetry
If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match.
B - Border
The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
C - Color
Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, blue or some other color.
D - Diameter
Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of the eraser on your pencil (1/4 inch or 6 mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
E - Evolving
Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.