Throughout every month, you shed your skin. Little by little, you’re constantly growing new cells. Old cells die and slough off, while new ones form to replace them. The cells reproduce when they are needed, and stay where they are supposed to. It’s a very orderly process – at least until it becomes disrupted and becomes abnormal. That’s what happens when skin cancer begins to develop. Damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes your cells to mutate, and they begin growing cancerous cells where normal skin cells should be. This means it’s very important to keep an eye out for anything abnormal with regular self-checks. Here’s what to know about doing this and what you should look for.
Check and check again
Aim for early detection. Nearly all skin cancers can be treated if found early enough, and your dermatologist can even remove most growths right in the office. Make sure to see your dermatologist for a full-body inspection once per year, especially if you are light-skinned or have lots of moles. Between professional exams, get in the habit of checking yourself once a month. Look for warning signs and don’t neglect areas like your palms, under your fingernails, on your eyelids and between your toes. If you have trouble with those hard-to-see spots, like your scalp or back, ask a loved one for help.
Your basic self-examination
Make sure to follow this basic pattern:
- Undress completely and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Look at your whole body, front and back. Raise your arms so you can check under them. Use a hand mirror for any back parts you can’t see.
- Look at both sides of your hands and at your lower and upper arms.
- Use the hand mirror to examine your scalp, ears, and the back of your neck. Part your hair and check your scalp as best as you can.
- Check out the backs of your legs and the bottoms of your feet with the mirror. Look between your toes, too.
What am I looking for?
What you are looking for is anything new, like a change in a mole or new growths. Be on the lookout for any mole with the ABCDEs of skin cancer:
- A for asymmetry. This means that one side of a mole doesn’t match the other.
- B for border. The border of most moles is smooth. A mole with edges that are irregular, ragged, or blurred could be a warning sign.
- C for color. A mole that is a mixture of colors, including blue, red, tan, black, white, or brown could be a red flag signalling melanoma.
- D for diameter. If a mole is larger than a pencil eraser, have it checked out by your doctor — it could be cancer.
- E is for evolving. If your mole changes over time with any of the above factors, make sure to have it checked.
Schedule a Consultation
Keeping yourself safe from skin cancer requires the help of your board certified dermatologist. To schedule an appointment to learn more or to undergo a skin check, contact our Seattle-area offices by calling or filling out our online form.