Stand naked in front of a full-length mirror (use a hand-held mirror to check the areas that are hard to see) and use something we refer to as the “ABCDE Rule” to guide your eye and help spot the common signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer:
Asymmetry: A mole or birthmark isn’t symmetrical.
Border: The edges of a mole or birthmark are irregular (ragged or blurred).
Color: The color of the mole or birthmark isn’t uniform.
Diameter: The mole or birthmark is larger than a quarter-inch across. (That’s about the size of a pencil eraser.)
Evolving: It’s changed in size, shape, or color since your last self-check.
To understand just how common skin cancer has become, consider this: Nearly half of Americans who live to be 65 will develop some type of skin cancer. Though almost all of them, with early detection and treatment, will be cured, even melanoma, for which the cure rate is 99 percent with early intervention. Never underestimate the importance of reviewing skin cancer warning signs.
Spotting the most common types
Basal cell carcinoma is the most widespread type of skin in the United States. More than four million new cases will be diagnosed this year, compared with 87,000 new melanoma cases.
Basal and squamous cell carcinoma (a million new cases a year) aren’t as dangerous as melanoma, but because of their frequency, we’re much susceptible to them, especially those of us who spend a lot of time outside, have fair complexions, have spent any time in a tanning bed, or who were exposed to an abnormal amount of radiation from x-rays and the like.
Both basal and squamous cell carcinomas tend to grow on areas of the body that get the most sun, like the face, head, neck, and ears. But don’t take that to mean that they only grow there, because they could appear anywhere.
When you do your self-checks, follow the ABCDE Rule first and then go back over yourself and look for the following, which may be signs of basal cell carcinoma:
- A pale or yellow area spot that may look like a scar.
- A raised reddish patch that might be itchy.
And then make one more pass, this time looking for signs of squamous cell carcinoma:
- A rough or scaly red patch that may crust or bleed.
- A raised growth or lump, sometimes with a depression in the center.
An open sore that doesn’t heal, or that heals and comes right back, is another warning sign of both basal and squamous cell carcinomas. It can be easy to pass it off as a pimple or a shaving cut, but if it hasn’t fully healed, or it’s reappeared within a
A little precaution never hurt anyone
Understand that skin cancers can look different from these descriptions. So, you want to try to mindful of any new spot or skin irritation, especially on the most vulnerable areas: your face, head, neck, and ears. In the same turn, most people have moles, and almost all of them are harmless. Some may fade with age, and some won’t.
The takeaway: The monthly self-check is not meant to become an all-consuming act that you grow to dread and quickly abandon. All I’m really asking is that you get to know your body. And if something catches your eye, ask a dermatologist to take a closer look. No harm can come from being precautious and being aware of skin cancer warning signs. But the risks shift dramatically when you choose to ignore what’s going on.