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The skin cancer self-examination

More than 100,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK each year. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and around 13,000 new skin cancer cases are malignant melanomas.

The earlier skin cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment.

One of the best ways to ensure skin cancer is picked up early is with a skin cancer self-examination. By checking your skin every month for irregularities that might be early cancer, and bringing those changes to your doctor's attention, you can play a key role.

What should you be looking for? Any spot or marking that is new, or one that changes in size, shape, feel, or colour. You should also be aware of any unusual sore, lump, or blemish, or any change in how skin looks and feels -- particularly any crusting, oozing or bleeding, as well as itching, tenderness, or pain.

More than likely, you'll discover some moles, but don't be alarmed. Normal moles are even in colour (black, brown, or tan), and they can be flat or raised, round, or oval.

An abnormal mole is one that is usually irregularly shaped, has a jagged, not smooth, border, and a mosaic-like colour with a mixture of black, brown or tan.

When looking for melanoma, the ABCDE rule that tells you the signs to look for:

Asymmetry - the shape of one half doesn’t match the other
Border - edges are ragged or blurred
Colour - uneven shades of brown, black, tan, red, white or blue
Diameter - melanomas are often larger than normal moles (greater than 6mm in diameter)
Evolution  – changes size or characteristics over time – may also become elevated (raised from the skin) – so time to see an expert.

How to perform a skin cancer self-examination

You should do a skin cancer self-examination about once a month. Just before or after a shower is probably a good time. You will need a full-length mirror and a hand mirror. A blow dryer may help in examining your scalp.

Here are the five easy steps:

  • Take off your clothes and stand facing the full-length mirror. Check your chest, shoulders, and arms, as well as under each arm, and look down the fronts of your thighs and calves.
  • Bend your elbows and examine your forearms, and the backs and palms of your hands.
  • Use the hand mirror to check the backs of your legs and the bottom of your feet. Remember to check between the toes.
  • Still using the hand mirror, check the back of your neck. Part your hair and if necessary, use a blow dryer to move it, and check not only your scalp, but also the area around and behind each ear.
  • Finally, use the hand mirror to examine your buttocks and lower back.

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 24, 2016

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