It’s warm and sunny, and you’ve spent the better part of the 15 months indoors and isolated. Which is to say, you probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of time thinking about skin cancer. But a moment of consideration now – especially now, on the cusp of summer – can make all the difference.
That’s because, for as prevalent as skin cancer is – it’s the most common kind of cancer in the United States and worldwide – it’s easily preventable and treatment is extremely effective. As long as it’s caught in its earliest stages.
The first line of defense
Critical to ensuring a timely diagnosis is scheduling an annual skin check with a board-certified dermatologist. (Check out my last post to learn more about what you can expect during the appointment.) But that’s not the full extent of it. During the months in between, you should be conducting your own skin checks. After all, no one’s as familiar with your skin as you are.
Never done one? Here’s how you should go about it.
First and foremost, if you haven’t taken a close look at yourself in a mirror in a while – all of your self – do it now. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with every mole, freckle, and spot because change is the number one warning sign. If you notice something new or changing, take note and have it evaluated by a dermatologist.
Fun fact about moles: We’re born with all of our moles, and they all come out around age 30. So, the appearance of new one later on should raise suspicion. In fact, two-thirds of melanoma are believed to come from new moles.
What to look for
To make sure your self-skin check is thorough, position yourself in front of a large mirror. You’re also going to need a handheld mirror to help with the hard-to-see spots. Or you can photograph those spots with your phone. And make sure the area is well lit.
Don’t assume that just because a part of your body never sees the light of day, it’s not worth examining. About 10% of skin cancers are not caused by the sun.
Scanning your scalp, face, hands, arms, torso, back, legs, and feet, look for moles that may feel itchy or appear inflamed or somewhat pink. Each of those is a concerning symptom. If there’s a mole that doesn’t look like the others – maybe it’s black when the others around it are lightly pigmented – that’s potentially problematic, too.
For those with darker skin tones, pay particular attention to the tops and bottoms of your hands and feet. A type of melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma, found on the hands and feet, appears to be influenced more by genetics than exposure to the sun.
The first time you do a self-skin check, you’re essentially creating a baseline. With subsequent checks – you should be doing them monthly, at least – you’ll be able to see new moles or spots and appreciate changes to existing ones more easily.