If you’re like most people, you probably look in the mirror when you apply cosmetics or brush your teeth, but rarely do you do a whole body skin exam to check for the early signs of skin cancer. This is unfortunate since the rate of malignant melanoma of the skin is rising in this country, a disease which has a serious prognosis if not treated early. By taking a proactive approach to skin cancer and doing regular skin exams at home, you potentially find a problem in its early stages when it can be successfully treated.
What’s the best way to do a skin exam at home? First, you need to establish how often to examine your skin. Doing a complete skin check every month should be sufficient to identify problems in their early stages. Pick a designated day each month to carry out your exam and stick with it. Consistency is important.
The best time to carry out your skin check is before taking a bath. Before starting, make sure you’re in a room with good lighting. Take off your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Have a hand-held mirror handy for doing more in-depth checks of hard to see areas. In a systematic manner, start checking for skin lesions beginning with your feet and moving upwards to your scalp. Be thorough and check every area carefully. Did you know a melanoma can even occur between your toes? Don’t neglect those hard to reach areas. Use a brush or a comb to move your hair aside to check your scalp as thoroughly as you do the skin on your body.
What are you looking for? When doing a skin exam, be on the alert for any new lumps, bumps, moles, or crusty areas on the skin. Existing birthmarks should be examined for signs of growth or a change in appearance. Check each of your existing moles carefully for enlargement, changes in color, asymmetry, blurring of the borders, or presence of itching or bleeding. “These can all be signs of malignant melanoma of the skin. Any mole that’s undergone a change should be immediately brought to the attention of your doctor. It can be helpful to have a magnifying glass handy during your skin check to get a closer look at any suspicious areas. If you develop what appears to be a new mole, you should always show it to your doctor.
While everyone should do a regular skin exam to look for early signs of skin cancer, persons at high risk should be particularly diligent about performing these checks. If you have a family history of malignant melanoma, have very fair skin, light blond or red hair, have a history of previous sun exposure, or have numerous moles, you should see a dermatologist every six months for a full exam.
Don’t take a chance with your health by failing to do a regular skin exam. Get to know your skin so you’ll be aware of any suspicious changes that occur. It could save your life.