How To Spot Skin Cancer

Woman Performing a Skin Exam to Prevent Skin CancerSkin cancer is the most common type of cancer, afflicting millions of Americans every year. Fortunately, when it is detected early, skin cancer is also one of the most curable types of cancer. Performing self examinations of your skin can help you to spot any suspicious lesions or questionable spots early. Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer and what to look for when you examine your skin can protect you from this preventable disease and may even save your life.

Performing Routine Skin Exams

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each presents itself slightly differently. While your doctor can check your skin for indications of these cancers during your routine physical exams, it is recommended that you perform your own self examination of your skin on a monthly basis. You should examine your skin in a well-lit room, using a full length mirror to study yourself if possible. Use a handheld mirror to examine areas that may be difficult to see. A complete self exam should take no more than 10 minutes.

Skin Cancer Signs and Symptoms

In order for self examinations of your skin to be effective, you must know what to look for. The warning signs of skin cancer vary, but the appearance of the following signs and symptoms sometimes indicate the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells.

  • A new skin spot
  • A skin spot that does not look like others on your body
  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears translucent, tan, black, brown or multicolored
  • A mole, birthmark, brown spot or age spot that changes in color or texture, increases in size or thickness, is larger than 1/4 inch or appears after the age of 21. 
  • A mole that becomes red or swollen
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A sore that continues to itch, hurt, bleed or scab

The “ABCDE” rule is an effective reminder of what might indicate the presence of melanoma specifically.

A: Asymmetry – Any mole or lesion that is not symmetrical

B: Border – Any mole or lesion with an irregular border

C: Color – Any mole or lesion that is multi-colored

D: Diameter – Any mole or lesion that is larger than ¼ inch in diameter

E: Evolution – Any mole or lesion that has changed in size, shape or color

What To Do If You Find a Suspicious Mole or Lesion

Don’t panic, but take action! If you find a suspicious mole or lesion on your skin, make an appointment with a physician. If possible, scheduling a visit with a doctor who specializes in skin diseases is ideal. You’ll want to have the area assessed by a professional and removed, if necessary, before it has the chance to become something more serious.

Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer

While checking your skin for suspicious symptoms can help you catch skin cancer early, preventing skin cancer by protecting yourself from the sun’s dangerous rays can help prevent skin cancer altogether. From wearing sunscreen to seeking shade when you’re outside on hot summer days, there are many ways to protect yourself. By taking precautions every time you go out in the sun and performing routine skin exams, you can significantly decrease your risk of developing skin cancer!