It only takes a few minutes a month, is easy to do and can save your life. Why then do so many neglect to check for signs of skin cancer on a regular basis?

Even if you have carefully practiced sun safety all summer, it's important to continue being vigilant about your skin in fall, winter, and beyond. Throughout the year, you should examine your skin head-to-toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions. Self-exams can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured.

First, for a successful self-exam, you obviously need to know what you're looking for.  As a general rule, to spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), look for any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way.  Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don't heal are also alarm signals.

It is so vital to catch melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, early that physicians have developed the ABCDE’s of detecting skin cancer. It is a great guideline to use during your self-checks.

Moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless but not always. That's why it's so important to get to know your skin and to recognize any changes in the moles on your body. Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and if you see one or more, make an appointment with a physician immediately.

A: This benign mole is symmetrical or in other words if you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will evenly match. If your mole is asymmetrical, meaning that the halves between the imaginary line will not be equal, that is a warning sign for melanoma.

B: A benign mole has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be rough or notched.

C: Most benign moles are all one color— often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black can designate melanoma. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue. 

D: Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than benign moles. If the mole is bigger than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), it can be a warning sign. (Note: they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.)

E: Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve (or change) in any way. When a mole is evolving, see a doctor. Any change in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.

With today’s sophisticated treatments being so successful if skin cancer is caught early, there is no excuse not to be diligent about checking out your skin. Solicit help if you are having problems with properly checking an area of your body including hands and feet. It is especially important to carefully inspect your face.

Best regards,