May is just around the corner, and that means Skin Cancer Awareness Month is coming! As dermatologists, Dr. Frankel and her team at RI Skin Doc cannot stress enough how important it is to catch potential skin cancer (especially melanoma) as early as possible. That’s why we recommend that our patients perform a skin self-exam at least once a month -- but how exactly should you go about examining your skin by yourself?
At RI Skin Doc, we want our patients to be educated on all the ways they can care for their skin and detect potential cancers while they’re relatively easy to treat. Here’s our guide to performing your next skin self-exam:
Use a Full-Length Mirror
Because skin cancer can appear on any part of your body, it’s important that when you’re performing your skin self-exam, you’re doing it in front of a mirror that can capture every area of your skin. That’s why a full-length mirror is the optimal tool! If you don’t have access to a full-length mirror at home, ask a friend or family member if you can access theirs, or use the largest mirror you have in your house as a substitute. The key is to examine your entire body from the front and the back, and then turn side to side so you can examine your skin from the left and the right.
Don’t Stick to the Obvious
After giving your skin a cursory glance at each angle, there’s still more to be done during a thorough skin self-exam. Skin cancer can appear in some unexpected areas, so it’s vital that you address certain places on your body that you may not look at often. These places include:
- The back of your neck
- Your scalp
- Your underarms
- The spaces between your toes
- Your palms
- The soles of your feet
You may need to use a smaller mirror to see areas that can be difficult to view in full. If you don’t have one, ask a friend or family member to take a look for you!
Take Note of Any Changes
When it comes to keeping track of your skin, once is never enough! It’s important that you continue to perform skin self-exams periodically -- ideally, once a month -- in order to catch any new developments as quickly as possible. Additionally, if you have any benign freckles, moles or birthmarks you’re already aware of, be sure to note any changes that occur, as these can be indicators that cancer has developed. Be on the lookout for unusual itching and bleeding in these places, as both of these symptoms can also be a red flag for cancer.
Know Your ABCDE’s
If you do see a spot that concerns you -- particularly one that you’re afraid may be melanoma -- there are a few steps you can take to determine whether or not you need to see a doctor immediately. Remember the “ABCDE” method during your exam:
- Asymmetry: Look for an irregular shape, rather than a round one.
- Border: If the borders of the mark are irregular, this may be melanoma.
- Color: Melanoma lesions are often brown, blue or black, while benign moles will usually be solid brown in color.
- Diameter: Melanoma lesions are usually larger than benign ones, clocking in at more than 6 millimeters in diameter.
- Evolution: If you already have a mark you’ve been keeping an eye on, be on the lookout for any changes in size, color or shape.
If you perform your skin self-exam as directed, and you do find a lesion or mark that concerns you, don’t hesitate. Scheduling an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as you possibly can is the best way to ensure that if you have melanoma, your outcome will be as positive as possible!
While skin self-exams are vital for the early detection of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer, it’s also important to have your skin professionally examined by a dermatologist at least once a year. If you’re ready to build a relationship with an experienced, compassionate dermatologist, reach out to RI Skin Doc and schedule your first appointment today!
With ongoing safety precautions in place, both RI Skin Doc and Rejuvaderm MediSpa are OPEN for in-person visits by appointment only. If you have any questions about our COVID-19 response, visit our website.