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Facts on skin cancer self-examination from your local dermatologist

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and afflicts more than two million people in the United States every year and this number continues to increase.  Fortunately, skin cancer is the easiest of the cancers to cure, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early.  If skin cancer progresses without intervention, it may result in disfigurement or even death.  Regular self-examinations are vital to identifying any potential issues early so they can be diagnosed and treated.

Who should do self-examinations?

Everyone should do regular self-examinations for skin cancer.  It is important to begin teaching children early on so they can perform these examinations themselves when they enter their teen years.  This is very important since teens are often exposed to sunlight or tanning and should definitely do self-examinations on a regular basis.

When to perform self-examinations

When they are performed regularly, the skin cancer self-examination may alert individuals to changes in their skin, including color or size changes of moles or freckles.  The skin cancer self-examination should be done monthly unless your dermatologist recommends more frequent examinations.  Your dermatologist may recommend a full-body exam as a foundation so that you know the status of any existing spots, moles or freckles.  Once you get into the routine, the self-examination should not take more than ten minutes.

What to look for during a skin cancer self-examination

When performing the skin cancer self-examination there are three primary types of skin cancer you should look for:  basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  Each of these cancers have different characteristics, so it is important that you know the early warning signs.  First, look for any type of change.  Even if something does not hurt, if it appears different from your last check, you should show it to your dermatologist.  Skin cancers can be painless, but also dangerous.  You should have a dermatologist check out any changes you discover.  If you see a warning sign, see doctor or a dermatologist right away.

Warning signs of possible skin cancer

The following are warning signs of possible skin cancer:

  • A birthmark, mole, brown spot or beauty mark which changes color, increases in thickness or size, is irregular in outline, changes texture, appears after age 21 or is larger than ¼ inch or six millimeters.
  • A skin growth which increases in size and appears translucent, pearly, tan, black, brown, or multicolored.
  • An open sore which does not heal within three weeks
  • A sore or spot which continues to hurt, itch, scab, crust, bleed, or erode.

If you see one of these warning signs, please do not ignore it.  The best approach is to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to have them examine it and determine if it is cancerous or not.


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