May is National Skin Cancer and Prevention Month which is a great time to reflect on sun protection and cancer prevention before the upcoming summer months. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US with an estimated 3.3 million people being treated for the disease each year. Nearly one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. When it comes to cancer, early diagnosis is the key. Typically, skin cancer that is discovered and removed early is highly curable.
Beyond practicing good sun protection like wearing a high quality sunscreen and staying out of the sun during peak UV times, the best way to prevent skin cancer is to have routine skin checks. A visit to your dermatologist on an annual basis is recommended, but in between visits you should perform regular self-examination of your skin.
Note: if you’ve never performed a self-examination, it is recommended to consult a dermatologist first. Your physician can walk you through your first self-exam and show you the best techniques.
WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
The purpose of a self-examination is to note any significant changes to your skin. Document any changes that you notice on your body map. You should consult your physician if you notice any of the following:
- Any growth that increased in size
- Skin growths that appear brown, black, pearly, translucent, or multicolored
- Color, size, and texture changes of moles, birth marks, or beauty marks
- Any area of the skin that persistently itches, scabs, crusts, or bleeds
- Any open sore that does not heal in 2-3 weeks
- Small pink, red, or flesh colored spots
- Any sensation changes of the skin including persistent itching, tenderness, or pain
MONTHLY SELF EXAMINATION
Grab a good light source, hand mirror, full-length mirror, writing instrument, and paper. Your entire examination will take less than 10 minutes. Follow these simple steps:
- Examine your entire face including mouth, cheeks, lips, forehead, and nose.
- Use the hand held mirror to check your scalp by parting your hair.
- Inspect your forearms, wrists, and hands (front and back).
- Utilize the full-length mirror to inspect your shoulders, upper arms, neck, torso, and chest. Women should inspect the undersides of their breasts.
- Standing with your back to a full-length mirror use a hand mirror to scan the back of your neck and the upper back.
- Examine your lower back and buttocks.
- Finally, sit down and inspect your lower legs, shins, ankles, and toes by raising your leg on a stool. Also inspect the groin area using the hand-held mirror.