How to Perform a Skin Check on Yourself
Examining one’s own skin, especially with the help of a partner, helps detect skin cancer at an earlier stage than waiting for someone else to find it. Here are the easy steps to performing a self-skin check, with or without a partner.
1. Set a regular schedule: often the first Sunday of the month is an easy way to remember performing a monthly self-skin check. Checking daily may be too soon to detect a changing lesion, and less often one may loose track of the responsibility to keep up with the exams.
2. Get undressed (to the level of comfort if a partner is present, of course). Use mirrors (and sometimes a hand mirror in front of a large panel mirror to check the back).
3. Review growths on your body for anything bleeding, tender, or obviously alarming.
4. Follow the ABCDEs of melanoma detection: Asymmetry, Border (an irregular jagged or meandering border), Color (2 or more shades of brown within a single lesion), Diameter (larger than the eraser on a pencil), and Evolving (a changing lesion)
5. What else to look for: you are looking for something that doesn’t quite “fit in” with the remainder of your skin. The ABCDE criteria are only about 50% sensitive for finding a melanoma, so there are many melanomas out there that don’t have the typical irregular border and multiple hues of brown discoloration. Look for a shade of brown or a shape or texture not present in any of your other moles, for example. Look for something that catches your eye. It sounds strange, but after performing skin exams routinely you will learn what is stable and typical for yourself.
6. Take pictures – high quality, in-focus photographs can be very helpful in following a growth over time. However, if the growth is atypical don’t just watch it – get it checked out first.
-Michael Krathen, M.D.