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How to Perform a Skin Self Examination

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 19 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Skin Self-exam Cancer Mole Lesions

Checking your skin regularly for signs of any changes, anything that looks abnormal, or any new skin growth, is important to your health – and could even save your life.

Doctors recommend doing a skin self-exam at least once a month, primarily looking for changes in the skin that could be signs of skin cancer. After all, who is more familiar with your body than you are - and who better to know what looks right, and what doesn't?

The main benefit of a skin self-exam is that it will help your doctor find any suspicious-looking skin problems early on, before they turn into something dangerous. When it comes to skin cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the greater a chance of a cure. Your health, literally, is in your hands.

How to Do It

Women may decide to schedule a home skin self-exam at the same time they carry out a breast exam, perhaps once a month after a bath or shower. Men may want to carry out a self-exam on their testicles at this time, looking for anything unusual that could be an early sign of testicular cancer.

Parents can also encourage their children to keep any eye out for skin changes, so that they can begin performing their own self-exams when they are teens. It should become a part of a regular hygiene routine and feel natural, not like a bothersome task.

Start by finding a place that is bright enough with good lighting, and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Then start with your head and work down, looking for the following:

  • New moles, growths, lesions or blemishes
  • Any growth, particularly a mole, which has changed in size, texture or colour. That includes moles that are asymmetrical, have uneven edges, or have changed in appearance
  • Any type of lesions that refuse to heal
  • Any type of growth at all that looks different from other ones on your skin

When performing a skin self-exam, be sure to look at your entire body, including your back, arms, legs – even between your toes! If there are hard-to-see areas, ask a spouse (or good friend) to look for you.

People Who Are at Risk

Some people are more at risk for skin cancer than others. If you fall into this category, you may want to keep a journal of your skin exams, writing down what you see to make it easier to keep track of changes.

People who are most at risk are those who:

  • Have a history of skin cancer in their family
  • Are older
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have had excessive exposure from ultra-violet (UV) rays, either from the sun or tanning beds
  • Have had skin cancer already in the past
  • Are Caucasian, especially with fair skin, red or blonde hair, and burn easily – although people from all ethnic groups can get skin cancer
Skin cancer is incredibly common. The three main types – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma – all have different appearances, so it’s vital to talk these over with your GP or dermatologist to know the warning signs.

Doing a regular skin self-exam is important, as is visiting your GP or dermatologist on a regular basis to rule out any abnormality you may find. As skin cancer is on the outside of your body where it is easily visible, early detection is that much easier. And as we all know, early detection is key.

Never be embarrassed to show anything suspicious to your doctor, or to worry that it’s really nothing and that you are wasting your doctor’s time. Showing a medical professional anything that concerns you could save your life.

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