Let’s continue unpacking the skin check. In my last post, I explained why they’re so important. (In a nutshell, everyone’s at risk of skin cancer. But it’s almost always curable when it’s caught early.) Below, I’ll outline what to look for during a self-skin check, which you should be doing at least once a month.
Establish a baseline
At the risk of oversimplifying this, the most important part of a skin check is picking up on any changes. Is that sunspot on your right shoulder new, or has it always been there? Is the mole on your left thigh bigger than you remember it?
To do this, you need to become familiar with every inch of your body. If you’ve never done this before, establish a baseline. In other words, make note of the size and location of all the moles and spots you can see so that you’ll have a comparison for each subsequent skin check.
What’s the deal with moles?
A mole, in and of itself, is not cause for concern. We’re all born with them, and they all come out around age 30. But sun exposure or sunburns can cause a mole to mutate and go from being benign to atypical, and sometimes even progress to melanoma.
If you notice a mole growing or changing shape, bring it to a dermatologist’s attention. Even if it’s subtle. Also ask yourself: Is the mole itchy? Inflamed? Kind of pink? Those are all warning signs, as well.
If you’re over 30 and a new mole suddenly appears, that’s worth mentioning, too. It’s thought that two-thirds of melanoma comes from a mole that wasn’t there previously.
There’s also something called the “ugly duckling rule.” That means, if you have a lot of moles, and one looks distinctly different from the others, that could be cause for concern.
Include even the hard-to-see areas
Your face, ears, neck, arms, and legs get the most exposure to the sun. But about 10% of skin cancers are not caused by the sun, and they can occur almost anywhere, including the soles of your feet, your armpits, and your groin.
For hard-to-see spots, like your back and scalp, ask a loved one for help or take a photo with your phone. The latter method has the added benefit of enabling you to document your skin checks, body part by body part, which will make you less reliant on your memory.
As important as it is to note changes of any kind, don’t gloss over a sore that continues to itch, scab, or bleed. You might have dismissed it as merely an annoying pimple. However, if it hasn’t healed within three weeks, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
How to spot melanoma
Finally, for melanoma, specifically, there’s the A-B-C-D-E acronym to help recognize warning signs.
- “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
- “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- “E” is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
It’s a lot to remember, I know. But the more familiar you become with your various spots and moles, the easier it’ll be to home in something suspicious.