How to Check for Skin Cancer in 10 Minutes (and Maybe Save Your Life)


Do you know how to check for skin cancer?

As summer wraps up, it’s worth remembering to check if you are entering the fall season with more than just a tan. No matter what your skin tone is and how well you think you’ve protected yourself from the summer sun, it is crucial to do a monthly check for suspicious skin lesions. That way, you not only become more familiar with the landscape of your body but also stay ahead of any pre-cancerous or cancerous incidences. Here’s how to conduct a self-examination.

Every month, set aside approximately 10 minutes to do a possibly life-saving, painless procedure that simply requires glancing at all angles of your body. It’s a small investment that could be worth your life, and if you develop the monthly habit of doing so, it won’t feel like such a chore.

What most people forget is that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. with more than 2 million people diagnosed with it per year, making more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers. This means that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Sometimes, sunscreen protection in the summer is not enough, as your skin is exposed to the sun even in the winter months. Because of this, melanoma can creep up on you when you least expect it.

Luckily, it is one of the easiest cancers to cure if it is diagnosed and treated early. Just in the way you take care of your diet and environment to avoid other cancers, you should also take care to inspect yourself of suspicious moles and other skin lesions.

The Skin Cancer Foundation is a great source for all your questions concerning skin cancer, including a how-to guide for self-examination. What you’ll need is a bright light (think of that unflattering public bathroom lighting), a full-length mirror, a pocket mirror, two chairs, a blow dryer and a pencil. Here’s what to look for and the steps to do it.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. Look especially for change of any kind. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.

What to Look For

When you examine yourself, look for any of the following:

  1. Skin growth that has increased in size and has a distinct color from the rest of your skin – pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  2. A mole that has changed shape, color, size or texture.
  3. If a mole has become larger than 6 millimeters (1/4 inch or the size of a pencil eraser).
  4. Irregular outlines of skin lesions.
  5. An open sore that is painful, itches, or bleeds and isn’t healing.

If you spot any of these markers, go to a physician immediately.

How to Check for Skin Cancer

  1. Let’s start with the face. Take a look in the mirror and scan the entire surface, including the edges of the lips, mouth, nose, neck, and ears. Use the pocket mirror to check your cheeks, all the way down to the neck.
  2. Use a blow dryer to inspect your scalp. Turn the blow dryer on medium and scan it across your hair, inspecting the scalp as the air from the blow dryer exposes it for viewing. Separate your head into sections and methodically go about approaching one after the other so that you don’t miss any particular part. Use the large mirror and pocket mirror to get a good view.
  3. Examine your hands, front to back and in between. Check your wrists and fingernails. Continue up your arms.
  4. Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Place your arm above your head and rest your forearm on your head. Use this position to inspect your elbows, underarms and arms. Turn left and right to check out the skin from your underarm to your oblique areas.
  5. Stand straight in front of the full-length mirror with your arms to your sides. Scan from your neck to over your breasts and down to your abdomen.
  6. Turn you back to the full-length mirror and hold the pocket mirror in front of your face. Use the pocket mirror to inspect your back, starting from the neck down to your lower back, including the backs of your arms.
  7. Continue in the same position to inspect your buttocks and the back of your legs.
  8. Next, sit down in a chair and prop your leg up on another chair or stool. Use the hand mirror to thoroughly inspect your genitals before examining your legs, ankles, feet, toes (including in between them) and heels.

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Photo Credit: Super Fantastic