Checking yourself for signs of skin cancer is actually fairly simple to do. This guide will explain how you can do a self exam for skin cancer.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, about 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer each day. Additionally, over 1 million Americans are living with melanoma.
While skin cancer can be deadly, if it's detected early enough, chances of survival are high. The estimated survival rate for patients with early-detected melanoma is 99 percent. However, the survival rate falls to 66 percent when skin cancer reaches the lymph nodes.
Performing self-exams can help detect skin cancer early, improve survival rates, and make treatment more manageable. Read on to learn how to do a self-exam for skin cancer.
What to Look For
Before you begin your self-exam, you need to know what to look for. Skin cancer comes in many shapes and sizes, and it's important to know the warning signs associated with the most common types of cancer, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).
Generally, if you see something new or unusual on your skin, you should speak to a dermatologist. Of course, this doesn't mean you should freak out every time you get a new pimple. Instead, you should look for:
- Moles that increase in size, change textures, change colors, or grow thicker. If it's bigger than a pencil eraser, it's a good idea to see a dermatologist.
- Growths that increase in size and appearance or appear transparent, pearly, black, brown, tan, or multicolored.
- Sores or spots that continue to hurt, itch, crust, bleed, or scab.
- Open sores that don't heal within a few weeks.
Of course, if you notice any of these changes, it doesn't automatically mean you have cancer, so don't panic. Plenty of people have moles that change in appearance, and it doesn't mean anything. However, it's still a good idea to see a dermatologist.
How to Perform a Skin Cancer Self Exam
To perform a thorough self-exam, you'll need a bright light, a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, a chair, and a blow dryer. Here's what you need to do:
Examine Your Face
Pay close attention to your nose, lips, mouth, and ears. Also, make sure to check both the front and back of the ears. You may want to use a second mirror to get a better view.
Check Your Scalp
Use a blow dryer to thoroughly inspect your scalp. Make sure to expose each section of hair. If you have a lot of hair, it might be a good idea to get a friend or family member to help you.
Check Your Arms and Hands
Stand in front of the mirror, begin at your wrists, and scan all the way up to your arms. Don't forget to check your underarms. Also, check your palms and the backs of your hands.
Also, check under your fingernails.
Check Your Torso and Upper Back
Next, check your neck, chest, and torso. Lift your breasts and view the undersides. Then, turn your back to the full-length mirror and use a hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, upper back, and shoulders.
Basically, you want to make sure you inspect any part of your back that you couldn't check when facing the mirror. You can also use both mirrors to scan your lower back, buttocks, and the backs of your legs.
Check Your Legs
Sit down and prop one leg on a stool or chair. Use a hand mirror to examine your genitals. Then, check the sides and fronts of your legs, making sure to inspect the thighs and shins.
Check your ankles and feet, including your toes, soles, and nails.
What Happens if You Find Something Suspicious?
If you find something suspicious while performing your self-exam, you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist immediately.
If you can't get an appointment right away, you may want to take pictures of your skin and send them to your doctor. This way, when you get an appointment, your doctor will be able to better tell if the area is changing.
Usually, the appointment will begin with your doctor asking you about your symptoms. They'll ask you when the mark first appeared, if it's changed in appearance, and if it's painful, bleeding, or itchy.
They'll also ask you about your sun exposure, including sunburns and tanning practices. They'll also ask about your family history of skin cancer. Your doctor will then examine your skin, noting any irregular shapes, sizes, colors, or textures.
The doctor may also check the rest of your body for moles and other possibly cancer-related spots. If your doctor believes that an area of skin may contain cancer, they'll remove a sample of skin from the area and take a look at it under the microscope. This is known as a skin biopsy.
There are various ways to perform a skin biopsy, and your doctor will choose a method based on the suspected type of skin cancer.
Time to Perform a Self-Exam for Skin Cancer
Now that you know how to perform a self-exam for skin cancer, it's time to get started. Ideally, you should check your skin for cancer about once a month. It's also a good idea to have your doctor check for you when you go in for an appointment, even if you don't notice any suspicious areas.
You should also schedule an appointment with a dermatologist once per year to check for skin cancer and other irregularities. To prevent skin cancer, make sure you take the proper skin protection steps. Part of this includes wearing the right clothes.
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