Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, afflicting more than 2 million Americans every year. It is also the easiest cancer to cure, if diagnosed and treated early.
When allowed to progress, however, skin cancer can result in disfigurement and even death. You should examine your skin from head to toe every month and see a dermatologist every year for a professional skin exam.
Q. What will I be looking for?
A. There are several signs you should watch out for – any skin growth that, over weeks to months, increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored; a mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that changes color, increases in size or thickness, changes in texture, is irregular in outline, or any spots or sores that itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed; or open sores that do not heal within three weeks.
Q. How do I perform a self-exam?
A. Follow these steps:
- First inspect your hands, including the tops of your hands, your fingernails, your palms, and the skin between your fingers.
- Next, stand in front of a full-length mirror and examine your face and ears.
- Part your hair to ensure you can clearly see your scalp.
- Continue by inspecting your neck, chest and torso; women should check under their breasts as well.
- Lift your arms to examine your underarms, elbows, and the front and back sides of your arms.
- Turn your back toward the full-length mirror, and use a small handheld mirror to inspect your neck, shoulders, back, buttocks and the back side of your legs.
- To complete the exam, sit in a chair and examine the front side of your legs, and your feet, including the tops of your feet, your toenails, heels, soles and the skin between your toes.
Q. I perform self-skin exams, but I still worry I will miss something.
A. If feasible, ask someone close to you for help when checking your skin.
Q. At what age should a person begin self-exams?
A. You should begin teaching children at an early age how to perform self-skin exams so that they can do it themselves by the time they are teens.
Q. Is there anything that can be done to prevent skin cancer?
A. Yes! Use sun screen and wear protective clothing! About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
If you discover anything suspicious, don’t delay. Skin cancer can be cured with early detection and treatment. Call a dermatologist right away to schedule a consultation.
Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.