Checking your skin a few minutes each month may help you spot cancer before it spreads. Learn how, now.
Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.
May 11, 2010
Skin cancer is easiest to cure when caught early. So The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-exams. Your doctor may suggest more frequent self-exams if you have a higher risk for skin cancer.
What to Look For
Skin cancer can start as a dark spot, mole, lesion, scaly patch or a change in an existing mole. See your doctor or dermatologist immediately if you notice any of the following warning signs:
A mole or spot that changes color or texture; increases in size or thickness; has an irregular outline; and/or is larger than 1/4 inch.
A spot or sore that doesn't stop itching, hurting, crusting, scabbing, eroding or bleeding.
An open sore that doesn't heal within three weeks.
A growth that increases in size and is pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.
How to Look
1. You'll need a bright light; full-length mirror for seeing your back and behind your head and ears; hand mirror; blow dryer; body maps; pencil; and two chairs or stools.
2. On body maps, draw a dot that shows each freckle, mole, birthmark, bump, sore, scab or scaly patch on your skin. Indicate each one's approximate size and color and the date in the margin. During subsequent exams, match each dot to its corresponding spot on your body, record the new date and note any changes. Also record new spots.
3. Either with a partner or by yourself:
Examine your face, including nose, lips, mouth, and front and back of ears.
Inspect your scalp in sections, using the blow dryer to raise your hair.
Check your hands—palms, backs, between fingers and under fingernails.
Continue up the wrists to examine the front and back of your forearms.
In the full-length mirror, examine your elbows, underarms and all sides of your upper arms.
Examine the neck, chest and torso. Women—look under your breasts.
Using the hand mirror to reflect your back in the full-length mirror, inspect the back length of your body from head to ankle.
Sitting, place one leg on a stool or another chair. Use the hand mirror to examine your genitals. Check front and sides of both legs, thigh to tops of feet, between toes, under toenails, soles and heels. Switch legs and repeat.