Even if you have carefully practiced sun safety all summer, it’s important to continue being vigilant about your skin in fall, winter, and beyond. Throughout the year, you should examine your skin head-to-toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions. Self-exams can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured.
First, for a successful self-exam, you obviously need to know what you’re looking for. As a general rule, to spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal are also alarm signals.
It is so vital to catch melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, early that physicians have developed two specific strategies for early recognition of the disease: the ABCDEs and the Ugly Duckling sign.
Skin cancer is a common form of cancer in the US, with nearly 5 million people treated for it every year. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed than instances of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Knowing the signs of skin cancer is what could mean the difference between life and death. Look for:
- Moles that have irregular, asymmetric shapes. Normal moles are round and symmetric.
- Moles that have unequal, interrupted or uneven borders.
- Moles that contain multiple colors, like black, brown, gray, and blue. Normal moles are one color.
- Moles that are larger than a quarter inch in diameter.
- Moles that change in color, shape, and size throughout life.