Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can get skin cancer, whether young or old, fair or dark. Like most forms of cancer, early detection is crucial. Skin cancer can be treated and cured if detected early before it spreads.
Most people should have a professional skin examination once a year. However, if you’ve had skin cancer, you have a family history of skin cancer, or you have reduced immunity, more frequent exams are probably a good idea. Talk to a dermatologist or your primary physician to find out how often you should be checked.
Self-Exams for Skin Cancer
In addition to dermatologist visits, you can also perform a self-exam as often as you’d like. While it’s important to know the warning signs, it’s equally important to understand that you shouldn’t self-diagnose based on general warning signs. Get your regular skin exam with a dermatologist, and use self-exams to supplement those professional exams.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), basal cell, carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma account for nearly 100 percent of skin care diagnoses. The AAD provides step-by-step instructions for conducting a self-exam and explains what you should look for.
Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. When conducting a self-exam, look for the ABCDEs of melanoma:
- Asymmetry. Asymmetry in moles, meaning one side doesn’t look like the other side.
- Border. A mole with an irregular or poorly defined border.
- Color. A variety of colors within a mole, including shades of brown or even white, red or blue coloring.
- Diameter. Moles wider than 6 millimeters, or the width of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving. Moles that change in size, shape or color, or appear different from other moles.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is characterized by:
- A dome-shaped skin growth with visible blood vessels.
- A patch of skin that is shiny pink or red, and slightly scaly.
- A scar-like growth that has a waxy feeling and a pale white, yellow or skin color.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer and is often caused by prolonged sun exposure. It is often found on areas of the skin that are most frequently exposed, like the head, neck, and the back of the hands, although it can occur anywhere on the body. Women often get this form of cancer on their lower legs.
If you notice something during a self-exam that you hadn’t noticed previously or you see something that bothers you, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. Request a full-bio skin exam, and don’t turn down such an exam if the doctor offers it.
Make a list of things you see that concern you, and point out any areas of concern to your doctor. Remember, early detection is critical to effectively treating skin cancer.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.