Checking yourself for skin cancer
Paul English, MD, is a dermatologist practicing at Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: How can I check myself for skin cancer?
Answer: Great question. Each year, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, and it is showing up more often in younger people. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is affecting more people than any other cancer. However, survival rates for Melanoma are approximately 99 percent when the disease is found in its earliest states.
That is why it is so important to check yourself monthly for skin cancer. Checking is a simple task. In fact, it can take no more than 30 minutes for you to give yourself a very thorough body scan that could save your life.
First, what are you looking for? Any spot or marking that is new or one that changes in size, shape, feel or color. Also any unusual sores, lumps or blemishes, crusting, oozing or bleeding skin that does not heal after several weeks. The average person has some moles. As long as they are even in color (all black, brown or tan), they can be raised, round or oval, they are likely normal. If they are irregularly shaped, have a jagged border or a mixture of black, brown or tan, you should call your dermatologist for a more thorough medical exam.
Here are a few tips for you to follow to check your skin for irregularities that might be early cancer:
- Using a full length mirror, take off your clothes and check your neck, chest, shoulder and arms, as well as under your arms and down the front of your thighs and calves.
- Examine your forearms and the backs and palms of your hands.
- Using a hand mirror, check the back of your legs, lower back and buttocks, the back of your neck and around and behind each ear, and the bottom of your feet.
- Check the top of your feet and between your toes.
Now that your body is safe, it is time to keep it that way. Check the expiration date on your sunscreen. If it is older than 6 months, purchase a new bottle.
In Arizona, dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher and it should block both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be used at all times, and by all people. In fact, skin cancer is most deadly for African Americans, Asians and Latinos because they often believe (wrongly) that their darker skin pigment saves them from sun damage.
It only takes one bad burn in childhood to double your risk factor for melanoma later in life.