How to Conduct a Self-Exam for Skin Cancer

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Skin cancer takes many forms. It appears in many shapes and sizes. You need to conduct a skin self-exam on a regular basis and alert your doctor to areas concerning you, particularly if the spots recently appeared or changed.

Checking for Basal and Squamous Cell Cancers

Basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers usually appear in areas experiencing heavy sun exposure, such as on your head, arms and neck. But you need to look for them all over your body. These appear as new growths, spots, patches, sores or bumps not healing after several weeks. What you think may be a shaving cut, but does not heal in a few days, sometimes is skin cancer. Actually unrelated to shaving, these bleed easily.

There are a number of ways basal cell carcinomas appear, including:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow scar-like areas
  • Reddish raised patches that may itch
  • Small pink, red, shiny, pearly or translucent bumps with blue, black or brown areas
  • Pink growths featuring raised edges and a lowered center with abnormal blood vessels spreading from the growths
  • Open sores, possibly with oozing or crusting, that do not heal or heal then return
  • A flat area showing only slight differences from normal skin

When looking for squamous cell carcinomas, signs to look for include:

  • Rough, scaly red patches sometimes crusting or bleeding
  • Raised lumps or growths, sometimes with lowered center
  • Open sores, sometimes with oozing or crusty areas, not healing over time or healing and then returning
  • Growths like warts
  • A flat area showing only slight differences from normal skin

To identify actinic keratosis, a condition sometimes progressing to squamous cell cancer, look for small, rough or scaly spots of a pinkish-red or flesh color. These usually appear on the face, ears, backs of hands and arms. But they can appear anywhere on sun exposed areas of skin. Some of these stay the same or go away on their own, while other grow into squamous cell cancers.

Conducting a Self-Exam for Moles and Melanomas

Normal moles usually stay the same size, shape and color for years to come. Some fade away as you age. A normal mole features an even color of brown, tan or black appearing as a spot on your skin. Moles are flat or raised, round or oval, usually less than a quarter inch across. You are born with some moles, but most appear in your childhood or early adulthood.

Almost all moles are harmless. But a changing mole may indicate developing melanoma. Warning signs of melanoma include appearance of a new spot on your skin or one that changes in size, shape or color. Look for spots appearing different than your other skin spots. Always have suspicious spots checked by your doctor.

To self-examine for melanoma, apply the ABCDE rule. This rule includes the following features of “dangerous” moles:

  • Asymmetry, with one half of the mole not matching the other half
  • Border changes, with irregular, ragged, blurred or notched edges
  • Color variations, with inconsistency of color including any shades of brown, black, pink, red, white or blue
  • Diameter concerns, with questionable moles or spots being more than a quarter inch in size
  • Evolving, meaning the mole is changing in size, shape or color

Not all melanomas fit these rules. So anytime you notice a changing or questionable spot on your skin, talk to your doctor.