How to Perform a Skin Cancer Self-Exam

October 8, 2019

Woman performing skin cancer self-exam

At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we help patients who have a wide variety of concerns regarding the health and appearance of their skin. And, one of the most important things we do as dermatologists is to help those patients who are diagnosed with skin cancer. We offer a range of skin cancer treatment options to address our patients’ needs, and our skilled dermatologists always provide personalized treatment plans. According to Dr. Adam Norberg of U.S. Dermatology Partners, formerly Southwest Skin Specialists, in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ, “Patients or their family members are often the first to spot skin cancer and early detection drastically increases the chance of a complete cure by removal. We recommend performing a  skin cancer self-exam regularly and receiving annual exams from a dermatologist to ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis as early as possible.” Keep reading to learn more about how to perform a self-exam and when to contact Dr. Norberg or your local U.S. Dermatology Partners location.

What to Look For

Dr. Norberg reminds patients, “Check your skin for the ABCDEs of melanoma. These are the most important things to look for during your self-exam.”

The ABCDEs of melanoma are:

  • A for Asymmetry: One half of a spot is different from the other half.
  • B for Border: The edges are irregular or poorly defined rather than round or oval.
  • C for Color: The spot has multiple colors or shades, such as tan, brown, black or red.
  • D for Diameter: Lesions greater than 6 millimeters — or about the size of a pencil eraser are more suspicious.
  • E for Evolving: A spot that is changing in size, shape or color. Also, new growths, especially in adulthood, deserve attention. Most melanomas arise within normal-appearing skin rather than a pre-existing mole.

According to Dr. Norberg, “Other signs to look for are growths or moles that are painful, itching, bleeding, or scabbed.” If a growth has repeatedly scabbed or bled from more than a month, it needs to be evaluated by a dermatologist.

Step-by-Step Skin Cancer Self-Exam

It only takes a few minutes to complete a self-examination of your skin. You should perform your self-exam in a well-lit room. Ideally, you should have a full-length mirror and a hand mirror or another person to help examine the entire front and back of your body. During your examination, you should check all areas of your skin, even those that don’t get as much sun exposure. Skin cancer is more common in sun-exposed sites, but it can occur anywhere on the body. The bottoms of feet, under and around nails, and even the eyes should be monitored. According to Dr. Norberg, “If you notice one or a few areas that worry you, you can take pictures of the moles on your smartphones to compare from month to month and look for any changes. If a mole has noticeable change over the course of weeks or a few months, it should be examined by a dermatologist.”

When you’re ready to start your skin cancer self-exam, we recommend progressing through the steps below:

  • Step 1 – Start at the top of your body. Take time to thoroughly examine your scalp. In addition to visually examining your scalp, you should also use your hands to feel below your hair for any bumps or moles. Examine your eyes, face, and neck for changes or growths.
  • Step 2 – Next examine your chest, stomach, and front of your body. Look at your shoulders and sides as well.
  • Step 3 – Examine your arms and hands carefully. Bend your arms and examine the creases and bends in your elbows for puckering or other irregularities. Make sure to look at the top of the hand and the palms.
  • Step 4 – Examine your legs and feet. Bend your knee and look for puckering and irregularities. Look at the bottoms of the feet and between the toes.
  • Step 5 – Use a hand mirror to examine your back, buttocks, and genitalia.

Preventing Skin Cancer

In addition to your regular self-exams, taking steps to protect yourself from sun damage and skin cancer should be an important part of your daily skincare routine. The bulk of skin cancer develops due to damage from the sun. So, anytime you’re going to be exposed to the sun’s rays, you should take some steps to prevent damage, including:

  • Daily sunscreen – you should be applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher every day to the face, hands, neck, and other areas that will be exposed to the sun. Many moisturizers have an SPF 30 sunscreen, making it easier to incorporate these products into your daily skincare routine.
  • Sunscreen for extended exposure – if you’re going to be outside for an extended time, you will need to apply an SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen. You should also reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours. If you’re going to be in the water or sweating, you may need to reapply more frequently.
  • Shade – make sure to take breaks from direct sun exposure, especially during the peak hours from 10 am to 4 pm. Seek shade, use an umbrella, or go inside periodically to allow your skin to rest.
  • Protective clothing – even though you are likely to be outside for longer time periods when it’s warm, wearing long sleeves, pants, and scarves to cover the skin is one of the easiest ways to prevent sun damage. Hats can provide added protection for the head and scalp as well as shielding the eyes.

The Importance of Annual Exams with U.S. Dermatology Partners

Dr. Norberg recommends, “It’s useful to examine your skin every month and see a dermatologist if you are concerned about any of the skin cancer warning signs referenced above.” If you notice any areas of concern during your self-exam, you should reach out to a U.S. Dermatology Partners location near you. If you live in Phoenix or Scottsdale, you can contact Dr. Norberg at U.S. Dermatology Partners. You can request an appointment at a U.S. Dermatology Partners office near you by completing our online request form. Once you have submitted your information, we’ll be in touch to schedule your appointment.

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