Over 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Some 51,000 of those cases are melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. When caught early, all skin cancers, even melanoma, are curable. Monthly skin exams will help catch early symptoms of skin cancer.
- Check yourself after a shower using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. Start by checking the moles and birthmarks that you've had since birth.
- Look for any changes, especially a new mole or skin discoloration, a sore that does not heal, or any change in the size, shape, texture, or color of an existing mole.
- Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
- Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms, and upper arms.
- Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs.
- Look between the buttocks and around the genital area.
- Sit and closely examine your feet, including the toenails, soles, and the space between the toes.
- Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. Use a comb or hair dryer to move your hair or get someone else to check your scalp for you.
Learning the ABCD's of skin care
The ABCD rule can help you distinguish an ordinary mole from an abnormal one.
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
- Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are ragged or notched.
- Color: The color over the mole is not the same. There may be differing shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue, or white.
- Diameter: The mole is wider than 6 millimeters (about ¼ inch) although in recent years doctors are finding more melanomas between 3 and 6 millimeters.
What is a mole?
Most people have moles, and nearly all moles are harmless. However, it is important to recognize changes in a mole that may show evidence of skin cancer. A normal mole is generally an evenly-colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be flat or raised, round, or oval. They are usually less than 6 millimeters (¼ inch) in diameter (about the width of a pencil eraser).
If you find anything suspicious, visit a dermatologist right away. The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer-related checkup, including a skin examination, every 3 years for people between 20 and 40 years of age, and every year for anyone age 40 and older.
A breast self-exam, or BSE, is one of three tests that doctors recommend to screen for breast cancer. By performing these exams on a regular basis, you will learn to recognize the changes in your breast that could signal the beginnings of breast cancer. The breast tumor's size and extent of spread are the two most important factors in determining a prognosis, or outlook. The earlier that breast cancer is discovered, the better your chances will be for treatment and cure.
Every woman, even if she is breastfeeding or has implants, should do a regular breast exam. The best time to perform a BSE is about a week after your period, when your breasts are less swollen and tender. If you are not having regular periods, then pick a day each month for a BSE and do it that same day every month. Routine examination will allow you to recognize what feels normal and what does not so that you will be able to detect any signs of cancer early.
While in the shower, press firmly with pads of three middle fingers using a circular motion, gently gliding over soapy skin. Do not lift fingers as you move around each breast in a circular pattern. Check entire breast and underarm pit. Use right hand to check left breast, and left hand for right breast. Feel for a lump, hard knot, thickening, or discharge from nipple.
Move around the breast in a set way. You can choose either the circle (A), the up and down line (B), or the wedge (C). Do it the same way every time. It will help you to make sure that you've gone over the entire breast area, and to remember how your breast feels each month. Do the same check lying down with towel under shoulder.
Look in a mirror. Check for changes in shape, size or in how the skin or nipples look. If you notice any changes, notify your doctor. A combination of mammography, clinical breast exam, and BSE is recommended for best results in finding breast cancer early.