May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, we would like to help you get back on track in practicing monthly self-examinations of your skin. Many strains of skin cancer are treatable and curable if caught early, and skin cancer detection is simple enough to do on your own in most cases. Practicing a head-to-toe exam on a monthly basis can dramatically reduce your likelihood of facing advanced stages of cancer and help prevent the spread of any cancerous cells that may be present.
Knowing the Facts
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States: over 5 million cases are treated every year. However, it is also the easiest cured if caught early enough. Your self-examination might seem trivial compared to the scans and machines available at your doctor’s office for cancer detection, but you are your own best resource in the fight against skin cancer.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma is formed in basal cells, which form new skin cells when old ones die. This type of cancer usually looks like a white lump with a wax-like texture or a scaly, brown patch, typically in areas of the body that are often exposed to the sun.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma appears in the cells on the outer layer of skin, squamous cells. Typically this looks like a sore, a scaly patch or wart-like area.
- Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and occurs in the cells that produce pigment in the skin. This type of cancer usually shows up in moles and can appear anywhere on the body. Melanoma is fast-spreading and should be treated as soon as it is discovered.
If you have a skin growth, mole, beauty mark or sore with any of the following characteristics, visit your doctor right away:
- Increases in size and/or thickness
- Changes color or texture over time
- Has an irregular outline
- Is larger than an average pencil eraser
- Appears after the age of 21, or is a brand new marking
- Causes itching or pain, or develops a crust or scab
- Begins to bleed
How to Perform a Self-Exam
Performing a skin cancer self-examination is as easy as 8 simple steps. You can do this easy screening before or after a shower, before bed – anytime you have a few minutes to check out important places on the body. Let’s break it down:
1. Check your face (nose, lips, mouth, ears) in front and behind every feature. Note any new moles, or any existing markings and whether they have changed at all.
2. Examine your scalp, maybe using a hair dryer and mirror to see clearly through your hair. Feel around for anything unusual on the scalp.
3. Inspect your hands. We know you use them every day, but this is often the place where strange spots go unnoticed. Check between your fingers, on the front and back of your palms and all the way up your forearms.
4. In front of a mirror, check all sides of your upper arms, beginning at the elbow, taking special care to not forget the underarms.
5. Move, then, to the neck, torso and chest. Women: be sure to lift your breasts to view underneath, and while you are here you may even perform a breast cancer self-examination as well by applying pressure to your breast to feel for any unusual growths below the surface.
6. Use a second mirror to examine the back of your neck, your back and your shoulders. Move down to the buttocks area and the backs of both legs.
7. Take a seat and lift one leg at a time, examining all sides, between the toes and even under your toenails. The soles of your feet and heels should not be ignored as well!
8. While seated and using a mirror, examine your genitals, which are very much susceptible to skin cancer growth.
It’s Your Responsibility, Too!
It is important to remember to care for your health and the health of those you love by reminding them about conducting self-examinations for skin and other types of cancer. Be sure to share this article with steps to a self-exam with your friends and loved ones so that they may be a part of early skin cancer detection and Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
If you have any questionable moles and would like to schedule an appointment to have a mole checked or removed, Dr. Schlotter and our team at Coastal Plains Surgical Care would love to help. To book your appointment in Beeville, Texas, call (361) 354-2832.