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How to Screen for Skin Cancer at Home

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer today, affecting about 20% of Americans at some point. With early diagnosis and treatment, even the deadliest skin cancer (melanoma) has a 99% survival rate when caught and treated early.
Monthly skin exams, which you can easily perform at home, are the best way to check for skin cancer in its earliest stages. Fortunately, home skin exams are easier than you might think. Read on to learn how to evaluate your skin for signs of skin cancer in the convenience and privacy of your own home.

Exam Prep

Plan to perform your skin exam in a well-lit room with a large full-length mirror, and have a smaller hand-held mirror on hand as well. Have a chair in the room since you’ll probably sit down for at least part of the exam. You may also need a comb and hair dryer to properly examine your scalp.

Exam Time

The ideal time to perform a skin exam is just after a bath or shower since you’re already fully undressed, but you can do so whenever it’s convenient for you. Just make sure to allow plenty of time for a careful head-to-toe skin exam.

Exam Process

Skin exams cover all the skin on your body, so you’ll look at all of the following areas individually.
  • Face
  • Ears
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Chest (including under the breasts in women)
  • Abdomen
  • Genitals
  • Back
  • Buttocks
  • Hands and arms
  • Legs and feet
  • Under nails
Look for skin changes in these areas, focusing on just one area at a time. Check every area carefully, making note of anything unusual, such as:
  • New bumps, moles, warts, or spots on your skin
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Rough or flaky patches of skin
  • Moles that change in appearance
Skin cancer can also manifest in other ways, such as fingernail discoloration.
If you can’t see the entire area you’re examining easily, use the handheld mirror to view it in the larger mirror (for example, your back) or sit down for a better look (for example, the bottoms of your feet).
Use a comb or blow dryer (on a cool air setting) to move your hair section by section to get a close look at your scalp. It can be difficult to view your scalp in detail, but it’s important to take the time to search every part of it since skin cancer can hide under your hair.
If you notice any possible warning signs of skin cancer, let your dermatologist know as soon as possible. In many cases, changes in your skin aren’t cancerous but could turn into cancer later. Seeing your dermatologist when you first notice the problem allows you to undergo preventive treatments to avoid cancer.

Annual Skin Exams With a Dermatologist

In addition to your monthly skin exams at home, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends scheduling skin exams with an experienced dermatologist once a year if you have an increased risk of skin cancer. The risk factors include:
  • Indoor tanning or excessive time in the sun
  • History of sunburns
  • Pale skin
  • Blonde or red hair
  • A large number of moles
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Older age (the average age of melanoma diagnosis is 65)
Fortunately, you can control some of the most dangerous risk factors, including indoor tanning, excessive time in the sun, and sunburns. Knowing your risk factors and taking steps to control your sun exposure can help you make significant strides to prevent skin cancer.
If you’re due for a professional skin exam or notice a potential issue during your home skin exam, East Carolina Dermatology and Skin Surgery, PLLC, is here to help. Call the office or contact us online today.

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