More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States, and that number has been rising for the past few decades. No matter where you live or how dark your skin is, you are vulnerable to skin cancer if you spend any time exposed to UV rays, whether they're from the sun or from tanning beds. Along with taking preventative measures, the best way to halt the threat of skin cancer is early detection.
Identify the Cancer
- 1Know all the different types of cancer and what they look like. It is very important that you learn the different signs before you assume you have some kind of cancer and freak out.
- Basal cell cancer. Most often found in areas that get exposed
to a lot of sun, such as the head, neck, and arms; flat, firm, pale
areas; small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny, waxy, "pearly"
areas; may bleed after minor injury; may have one or more abnormal blood
vessels, a lower area in their center, and/or blue, brown, or black
areas; larger areas could be oozing or crusting; small blood vessels may
- Squamous cell cancer. Most often found in areas that get
exposed to a lot of sun, such as the head, neck, and arms; lumps with
rough, scaly, or crusted surface; flat reddish patches that grow slowly;
sometimes accompanied by ulceration or bleeding.
- Actinic keratosis. Small (less than 1/4 inch) rough spots; pink-red or flesh-colored; usually on the face, ears, back of the hands, and arms.
- Melanomas. Look for changes in size, shape, or color of a mole or the appearance of a new spot during adulthood. Use the "ABCD rule".
- A - Asymmetry, one half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B - Border is irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C - Color varies (brown, black, red, white blue).
- D - Diameter is larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch -- the size of a pencil eraser).
- Basal cell cancer. Most often found in areas that get exposed to a lot of sun, such as the head, neck, and arms; flat, firm, pale areas; small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny, waxy, "pearly" areas; may bleed after minor injury; may have one or more abnormal blood vessels, a lower area in their center, and/or blue, brown, or black areas; larger areas could be oozing or crusting; small blood vessels may be seen.
- 2Become familiar with warning signs. Not all skin cancer cases exhibit classic symptoms as described above. Look out for the following, as well:
- Any new growths, spots, bumps, patches, or sores that don't heal after 2 to 3 months
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
- Change in sensation -- itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole -- scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule
Self Examination & Preventative Measures
- 1Mark your calendar. In addition to your annual check-up with a doctor who can inspect your skin and answer any questions you may have, plan to give yourself a skin exam once a month.
- 2Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Skin cancer can form anywhere on your body so it is very important that you perform a very thorough self exam. Use a wall mirror to give yourself a better view of your skin. You should also have a hand-held mirror and, if possible, a spouse or close friend to help you check out areas like your lower back or the backs of your thighs.
- 3Examine your entire body. It can be helpful to have a list in front of you. Don't skip any of these steps as you perform your self-exam:
- Check your face, lips, ears, behind your ears, and eyes. Use a flashlight to check the inside of your mouth.
- Check your neck, shoulders, belly and chest. You may need to lift your breasts or any excess skin so you can check the skin underneath.
- Check your underarms, arms, hands, between your fingers, and fingernail beds.
- Using a hand mirror, check your buttocks, genitals, lower back, upper back, and the back of your neck. Face your backside to the large mirror and use your hand held mirror to see your reflection.
- Check your legs, ankles, feet, toes, toenail beds and between your toes. You can check your front while sitting down, but you will need to use a hand held mirror to see the bottoms of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs.
- Part your hair and check your scalp.
- 4Seek medical attention if you find anything that you think might resemble skin cancer. Get help as soon as possible; consider calling your local clinic and making an appointment for the next day. When skin cancer is concerned, it's always better to be safe than sorry.