What to Look for When Doing a Skin Check

It's no surprise that warmer months mean more exposure for our skin. Sunny summer days are the perfect reminder to conduct regular skin checks for you and your loved ones. You may have heard to use the ABCDE rule to spot skin cancer. This is:

Asymmetry. Does one part of a mole not match the other?
Border. Are the edges of a mole irregular or ragged?
Color. Is the color not the same all over the mole and does it include shades of black or brown?
Diameter. Is the spot larger than a pencil eraser?
Evolving. Has the mole changed in size, shape or color?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, make an appointment with your provider. You should also know a few of the other signs of skin cancer. These include:

Bleeding or Weeping Sores
They might be the most common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. Typically found on the sun-exposed areas of the head and neck, the sores may be oozing or crusted and either don’t heal or heal and then come back. The good news is that this type of skin cancer usually grows slowly and can be removed entirely, which prevents the cancer from coming back in the same place.

Rough, Scaly Spots
These might be precancerous areas. The pink-red or flesh-toned spots generally grow slowly and tend to occur more often in people who are fair-skinned. Usually found on the face, ears and backs of the hands or arms, they may feel itchy or sore. Most of these spots do not become cancer, but some may turn into squamous cell skin cancer.

Bumps and Growths
Small, pinkish, pearly bumps with blue, brown or black areas could be skin cancer. Also watch out for pink growths with raised borders and lower middle areas, which might have small blood vessels spreading out like spokes on a wheel.

A Dark Band on Your Fingernail
Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is more likely to start on the torso in men and on the legs in women, but it can start anywhere, including on a fingernail. If you notice a dark band growing on or under your nail, see your provider.

Get in the habit of doing a skin self-check about once a month in a well-lit room with a full-length mirror. Your doctor can carefully check your skin during a routine cancer-related checkup.

Sunscreen Basics

Your best protection to prevent skin cancer is sunscreen. If you’re not sure what to look for when shopping for sunscreen, here are some tips from the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Make sure the container says “broad spectrum.” This means it blocks UVB rays, which cause cancer, and UVA rays, which cause wrinkles and age spots.
  • Use sunscreen every day. Even if the sun isn’t shining, 80% of harmful UV rays can get through and penetrate your skin.

To learn more about cancer treatment and prevention, visit our Cancer Center webpage and and witness the inspiring story of melanoma survivor Alicia Mitchell.

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