Skin cancer

Tips for Skin-Cancer Self-Exams


Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one person dies from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every hour.

In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May, the American Academy of Dermatology is encouraging the public to be a “Skin Cancer Hero” by learning how to detect skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable. The campaign aims to save lives by teaching the public how to identify the warning signs of melanoma, perform a skin self-exam and find free SPOTme® skin cancer screenings in their area.

“Skin cancer is one of the few cancers you can see with the naked eye,” said board-certified dermatologist Ali Hendi, MD, FAAD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. “Yet sadly, many people don’t know how to be their own hero when it comes to skin cancer, including what to look for on their skin or when to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

To increase their chances of spotting skin cancer early, when it’s most treatable, Hendi recommends that everyone check their skin for the ABCDEs of melanoma, the warning signs of this disease:

1.A is for Asymmetry: One half of the spot is unlike the other half.

2.B is for Border: The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.

3.C is for Color: The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red or blue.

4.D is for Diameter: While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters — or about the size of a pencil eraser — when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

5.E is for Evolving: The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color. Even if you don’t have any other symptoms, see a board-certified dermatologist if you notice one of these signs or notice an existing mole start to evolve or change in any way.

“When detected early, skin cancer, including melanoma, is highly treatable, making it imperative to check your skin regularly,” said Hendi. “It only takes a few minutes to check your skin, and it could save your life.”

To perform a skin self-exam, Dr. Hendi recommends the following tips:

1.Examine your entire body — front and back — using a full-length mirror. Then, look at your right and left sides with your arms raised.

2.Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, underarms and palms.

3.Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet. Check your fingernails and toenails; however, make sure to remove any nail polish first.

4.Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look.

5.Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror. Consider asking a partner to help, as another set of eyes can be helpful for checking the back and ther hard-to-see areas.

“While performing a skin self-exam, keep in mind that skin cancer can develop anywhere on the skin, not just in areas that are exposed to the sun,” said Hendi. “If you notice any new spots on your skin, scalp or nails, spots that look different from other spots on your body, or spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

To learn more about how to detect skin cancer, visit the AAD’s SPOT Skin Cancer™ website — — for valuable information and resources on skin cancer prevention and detection, including:

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 19,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or

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