Time for another post on prevention. This time we’re looking at skin self-exams (SSEs)
SSEs are performed to check for early-stage skin cancer. It’s best to perform them monthly. The time of month generally doesn’t matter. A skin self exam can be done by anyone with skin… which should be everyone. People who definitely should consider doing SSEs because they are at higher risk for skin cancer include those:
- With skin cancer in the family (especially melanoma).
- With many moles or freckles
- Who burn instead of tan
- Are fair-skinned or fair-haired
- Who live at elevation or in the tropics
- Spend a lot of time outdoors
- Are immuno-compromised or have an autoimmune disorder
- Take certain medications including: birth control pills, some antibiotics including tetracycline and sulfa drugs, NSAIDs such as Aleve and Ibuprofen, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Your doctor should check your skin during your yearly check-up. There are official instructions for SSEs available on the ACS website, but here’s the essence: look at your skin everywhere. They really do mean everywhere, even your scalp and under your nails! A full-length mirror is essential. A hand-mirror is really handy if you don’t have an extra pair of eyes. Like with breast and testicular self-exams, a partner or partners can help and the exam can become part of other activities. Mole maps, like this one (PDF), are available to help you keep track of changes.
When checking your skin, take a close look at your moles. You want to watch out for moles that are:
- Asymmetrical: It’s not the same on both sides.
- Border irregular: The border is irregular or ragged….like an amoeba instead of a circle.
- Color variation: The color is different in different parts of the mole.
- Diameter is larger than a pencil eraser.
- Evolving: The mole is changing.
Other warning signs are also possible. If you spot something weird, you want to talk to a doctor ASAP. It may not be skin cancer, but you don’t want to risk it and some skin cancers can move very quickly.
For more information: