Everyone should examine every inch of their skin for signs of skin cancer. It is important to check your skin for asymmetry, moles, skin tags and skin elevations. It is important to write down your findings on each part of your body, so you can compare notes at the next skin cancer self-exam.
How often should you give yourself a skin cancer self-exam?
To check your skin thoroughly for irregularities, which could be skin cancer, you will need to have a hand mirror, a flash light, and a full length mirror. If you have any birthmarks on your skin, study them to make sure that they look the same as they always have. When you look at your birthmarks and moles, it is important to look for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and elevation. Just remember ABCDE, when you check your skin for any telltale signs of skin cancer.
Asymmetry – Most healthy moles are symmetrical. If a mole has changed from symmetrical to asymmetrical, the mole could be cancerous or precancerous. Make a note of any irregularity of a birthmark or mole.
Border – The border of healthy moles should be clear and defined. If a mole is cancerous, it is likely to have irregular edges. The edges may look and feel bumpy.
Color – Notice the color of your moles and birthmarks. Do they look similar to your surrounding skin color? Have any of your moles or birthmarks changed color from tan to brown, white, red, black or blue? Be sure to make note of the location and color of your moles and birthmarks.
Diameter – Note the size of your moles and birthmarks. Are your moles the size of a pencil eraser, a dime, a nickel or larger? Compare the size of each of your moles and birthmarks each time that you do a skin cancer self-exam.
Elevation – Is any part of a mole or birthmark raised above the level of the skin. Is there part of a mole or birthmark that is elevated above another part of it?
How should you systematically do a skin cancer self-exam?
Look into your mouth and check your tongue and all the areas inside of your mouth. You can do this by standing in front of a mirror and then use a flash light to look inside your mouth.
Stand in front of a full length mirror and look at your face and neck area. You may want to use a handheld mirror that has a magnifying mirror on it. Check your face, neck and ears for any irregularities, such as moles, birthmarks and lesions. Women, you will need to look at the area between and under your breasts for any moles or lesions that are present. Look at your hands and between your fingers. If there is anything growing there, be sure to make note of anything you find growing between your fingers.
While you are standing at a full length mirror look at the front of you, and turn so that you can see each of your sides. Raise your arms up so that you can see under your arms. Look at the reflection of your back in a handheld mirror as you stand with your back facing the full length mirror. While your arms are raised, take a good look at your elbows too.
You will need to check your genital and bottom area also. You should be able to do this with the aid of your handheld mirror. If you are male, carefully check the skin on your penis and scrotal area. Check the area between the scrotum and thighs and the area between the scrotum and the anus. Women, check the labial folds, and the area between your thighs and perineum. Men and women, check the area between your buttocks. Leave no area of your body unchecked, because cancer can present anywhere on your body.
Once you have checked every area of your body that you can see while standing up, you will need to sit down and examine the parts that you can’t see when you are standing. You may need to bring a chair in front of your full length mirror and sit down. Hold your feet up so that you can see the bottoms of your feet in the mirror. Check to see that the soles of your feet are free from any moles, marks or lesions. Now check the areas between your toes. You may need to use your handheld mirror for this part. If you can bend your knee and support your foot on your opposing thigh, you should be able to see between your toes. If you can’t see very well, use the mirror to help you see in those hard to see places.
How often should you do a skin cancer self-exam?
You should check your body for signs of skin cancer twice a year. Go through a thorough skin cancer check every six months and keep records of the presence, size, color and dimensions of any birthmark, mole or lesion that you find on your body. Be sure to note any changes. If you find areas that have changed colors, ask your doctor to check them as soon as possible.
It is important to check your skin twice a year so that you can compare. As we get older, we often get moles and skin lesions that we didn’t know were there until we just happen to find them. By doing a thorough skin cancer skin check every six months, you will be aware of new moles and lesions much quicker than you might have otherwise.
Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun, but people with light skin and light hair can be susceptible to skin cancer even when they are not frequently exposed to the sun. It is important to know what skin cancer looks like, so that you don’t misdiagnose yourself.
Melanomas are often black or blue looking, and these are some of the worst kinds of cancers to have. Melanoma is the least common type of cancer. Basal cell carcinoma looks like a pearly lesions. Squamous cell carcinomas are reddish and have a crusty top.
Personal experience as a nurse