Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, and that every hour, a person dies of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Discovering it in time through the signals that may appear is key to the treatment. That is why the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) encourages everyone to learn how to detect skin cancer early, when it is most treatable. The goal is to save lives by teaching people to identify the warning signs of melanoma and perform a skin self-examination.
“Skin cancer is one of the few types of cancer that can be seen with the naked eye,” said Ali Hendi, a dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. “However, unfortunately, many people do not know how to be their own detective to look for skin cancer clues,” he added.
“When it is detected early, skin cancer, including melanoma, is highly treatable, so it is essential to control your skin regularly,” says Hendi. “It only takes a few minutes to check your skin and it could save your life.”
Step by step of a skin self-exam
Examine your whole body, back and forth, with a full-length mirror. Then, look at your right and left sides with your arms raised.
Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, armpits and palms.
Look at the back of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes and the soles of your feet. Check your fingernails and toenails, but be sure to remove the nail polish first.
Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Separate your hair to make a closer look.
Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror. Consider asking for help from a partner, since another pair of eyes may be useful to check back and other hard-to-see areas.
“When performing a skin self-examination, keep in mind that skin cancer can develop anywhere, not just in areas exposed to the sun,” Hendi reflects. “If you see new spots on the skin, scalp or nails, spots that look different from other places on your body, or spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a certified dermatologist,” he concludes.
Polka dots and dangerous spots
To increase your chances of detecting skin cancer early, when it is most treatable, Hendi recommends that everyone check their skin for ABCDE melanoma, the warning signs of this disease:
- is for asymmetry: when half of the spot or mole of the skin is different from the other half.
- the edge: the mole or spot has an irregular, scalloped or undefined edge.
- the color: the spot has different colors from one area to the other, such as shades of brown, brown or black, or areas of white, red or blue.
- Diameter: Although melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm when diagnosed, they may be smaller before.
- the evolution: the place looks different from the rest or changes in size, shape or color.
Even if you do not have any other symptoms, consult a certified dermatologist if you notice one of these signs, or if you notice that a mole that you already had begins to evolve or change.