Next time you look at yourself in a mirror, take a closer look at that mole or freckle on your skin. Is it really as harmless as it looks?
A routine check of your skin – from head to toe – is the best way to get familiar with your body's largest organ. Self-exams help you spot changes in your skin that may be signs of something more serious than just another age spot.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. By most estimates, 3.3 million people every year get a diagnosis of the most common types of skin cancer.
That's why it's important to pay attention to your skin and track any changes. Like all cancers, the earlier skin cancer gets detected, the better.
Here are five tips to get you started on skin self-exams.
1. Check every direction
Head to toe, front to back, side to side – check your entire body. Use a full-length mirror to get a better view of your torso, arms and legs. A handheld mirror helps you see the back of your legs and the bottom of your feet. Remember to get a clear view of your back and buttocks. Check between your toes and look at your nail beds. To check your scalp, try using a hair dryer to part your hair or use a handheld mirror for a closer look.
2. Know your ABCDEs
Use this memory tool to remember classic signs of cancer when you check moles, freckles or spots on your skin.
A – Asymmetry on one half compared to the other
B – Borders are uneven
C – Color is dark, black or multiple colors
D – Diameter is greater than the size of a pencil eraser
E – Evolving or changing in size, shape and color
3. Mark your calendar
Check your skin every month. Make it a habit after a bath or shower to do your exam. You also may want to ask a family member or friend to help you see those hard-to-reach areas. Once you get the hang of it, an exam should take about 10 minutes.
4. Get it checked
If you notice a change or find a spot that concerns you, talk with your family doctor or dermatologist.
You can also schedule a skin screening at Goshen Center for Cancer Care. Usually, you can get an appointment quickly. Providers can do a full-body screening or check a specific site for signs of precancerous or cancerous growths. If an area looks suspicious, your provider can take a sample to send to a lab for a biopsy.
5. Start now
Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin color or age. That's why it's important to add monthly skin checks to your routine starting when you are in your 20s or 30s. As you become familiar with your skin and all its blemishes, you can see changes earlier and get them checked before they become serious problems.
If a family member has a history of skin cancer, you are at greater risk of developing a cancerous growth. Talk with your doctor about regular skin exams. It's the best way to save your skin – and your life.
For more information, contact Goshen Center for Cancer Care, (574) 364-2888.
Bo Coody, FNP-BC, offers tips like these and more to patients at Goshen Center for Cancer Care. He provides skin checks and preventive screenings for patients to catch signs of cancer early when more treatment options are available. Bo also serves as part of the radiation oncology team and cares for patients undergoing radiation therapy.