How can I check my skin for cancer?

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To check your skin for cancer, do it in a room with plenty of light. Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror to learn where your birthmarks, moles, and other marks are as well as their usual look and feel. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the best time to do this is after a shower or bath.

If you find anything that looks unusual, such as a sore that won’t heal, a new mole that is different from others or a change in the way one of your moles looks, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Dr. Coren M. Menendez, MD
Family Practitioner

You can check your skin for cancer by paying attention to the ABCDEs of skin cancer.

  • Asymmetry: Is the mole unusually shaped?
  • Border: Does the mole have an irregular border?
  • Color: Is the mole more than one color?
  • Diameter: Is the mole larger than the size of a standard eraser on the end of a pencil?
  • Evolution: Has the mole changed, especially over one to two months?

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. Conversely, melanomas that are diagnosed early, before they reach 1 millimeter in thickness, have a 95% cure rate.

Examine your skin once a month for any suspicious changes. Sores that won't heal may also indicate skin cancer or precancerous conditions that need attention.

The American Academy of Dermatology has developed an easy-to-use method to evaluate your skin for melanoma. Look for the "ABCDEs":

  • Asymmetry: One half of the spot is not shaped like the other half.
  • Border irregularity: A poorly defined or "scalloped" border.
  • Color: Shades of tan, brown, black and sometimes red, white and blue, vary across the spot.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than six millimeters, the diameter of a pencil eraser, however, skin cancers can also be smaller.
  • Evolving: The mole looks different from the other moles on the body and is changing in size, shape or color.

 

 

 

First, let me state for the record that I don’t like putting the responsibility of knowing what to look for in patients. Being proactive is about scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist if you’ve never been to one, and being diligent about regular checkups. That said, here’s what to look for: funny, changing spots or moles. The A, B, C, Ds to check:

  • Asymmetry - half of the spot doesn’t match or look like the other half.
  • Borders that are irregular - ragged, notched, or blurred around the edges.
  • Color changes - say, from tan to black or red to bluish.
  • Diameter - anything larger than a pencil eraser (6 millimeters) should be scrutinized, in addition to anything that’s started growing. Regardless of these ABCDs, the best piece of advice is this: When in doubt, get it checked out, and visit a dermatologist once a year to have a complete body exam.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

 

Continue Learning about Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Examine your skin once a month for any suspicious changes that might indicate skin cancer (such as sores that won't heal) as well as precancerous conditions that need attention. A skin cancer diagnosis by your doctor includes a vi...

sual exam and number of skin biopsy procedures. The biopsies are sent to a lab to check for irregularities and your doctor's office will contact you with results.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.