Friday, April 1, 2011

How to Check for Skin Cancer

More than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually not only in the United States but all over the world, 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 prevent the threat of skin cancer is to detect it early on. Fortunately, all you need to do this are eyes and a mirror.

1. Mark your calendar. Plan to give yourself a skin exam once a month, in addition to your annual check-up with a doctor who can inspect your skin and answer any questions you may have.
2. Know your cancers. It is very important that you learn your cancers before you panic about something such as a bruise or birthmark.
Flat, red spot
Firm, red, shiny raised lump
  •   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;
  • 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

  • Crusty lump

  •  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.
Normal mole

B - Border is irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
Normal mole
Normal mole

C - Color varies (brown, black, red, white blue).

Normal mole
Normal mole

 D - Diameter is larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch -- the size of a pencil eraser).
Normal mole
Normal mole

3. Become familiar with warning signs. Not all skin cancer cases exhibit classic symptoms as described in the previous step. 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
4. Stand 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.
5. Examine 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.
6. Seek medical attention - If you find anything that you think might resemble skin cancer, seek medical attention immediately. 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.


  • If you find what appears to be skin cancer always seek medical attention as soon as you can.
  • If the surgical wound does not heal in about a month after surgery, it is advised to contact your closest Wound Center, for an exam and healing. This is covered by most Medical Insurance policies, including Medicare.
  • All of the dangers like skin cancer that are associated with the sun may be avoided easily by wearing the appropriate clothing and using sunscreen.
  • Remember melanoma is not just a skin cancer - The other part of the body in which a melanoma can occur is the eye. Check your eyes too as melanomas can occur anywhere on the eye - on the iris, conjunctiva, eyelids and inner parts which can be the choroid. It is a rare cancer, but the most common eye cancer in adults. Eye melanoma symptoms:
    • In the early stages the person may have no symptoms (the person will not know there is a melanoma in the eye till he/she has their eyes checked and looked into with the opthalmoscope by the optician/opthalmologist/optometrist)
    • The benign form of eye melanoma is called a nevus. Regular checks and close watching on it are done to ensure that it doesn't turn into a melanoma.
    • When it grows larger - there may be blurred vision, double vision, decrease in vision, retinal detachment and loss of vision)
    • If the melanoma is on the conjunctiva or the iris it will be seen as a blackish/brownish spot on the iris/conjunctiva.
    • If not caught and treated early, eye melanomas can spread to other parts of the body, mainly the liver.
  • Treatments for eye melanoma?
    • Cryotherapy and plaque therapy (to freeze and/or burn the melanoma)
    • Laser therapy.
    • Surgery to remove the eye, this is called an enucleation. If the tumour is very large and too advanced for just an enucleation, more extensive surgery called orbital exenteration will be needed. An orbital exenteration removes not only the eyeball, but also the eye muscles, other eye and orbital structures and also the eyelids.
    • Surgery to remove part of the eye (especially if it's on the iris), such as iridectomy (removal of a piece of the iris) and iridocyclectomy (removal of a piece of the iris along with the ciliary muscle)
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiotherapy.
  • If you have ever had a blistering, second degree sunburn before, you have an increased risk of skin cancer. Your risk is twice as high as that of someone who has never had a blistering burn.


Do not use this guide as a replacement for skin cancer treatment. If you happen to find out you have skin cancer, contact a doctor.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand mirror
  • Wall mount mirror
  • Chair
  • Knowledge of the different types of skin cancer

Sources and Citations




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