Becoming familiar with your own skin so that you will be aware of any changes that occur is a good way to help protect yourself against skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends completely examining your skin at least once each year and seeing a dermatologist if you notice any changes, growths, or bleeding.
Instructions on how to do a thorough skin self-examination, with illustrations, are given on this Web page. To examine your skin properly, you will need a full-length mirror, a handheld mirror, and a well-lit room, such as a bathroom, where you can examine yourself in privacy.
Examining your skin means standing in front of a full-length mirror to look at all parts of your body, while using the handheld mirror to see areas that cannot be seen without a second mirror. Since skin cancer can occur anywhere on your body, you should examine your entire body. Don't forget to part your hair with a comb or blow dryer and look at your scalp.
After you have examined your skin a few times, you will be familiar with your moles, birthmarks, and other skin irregularities, and you will be able to spot changes that may be indicative of skin cancer or other skin problems.
Signs of possible skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, include the following:
A sore that never heals completely
A translucent growth that may have rolled edges
A brown or black streak underneath a fingernail or toenail
A cluster of slow-growing, shiny pink/red areas
A scar that feels waxy
A flat or slightly depressed area that feels hard when you touch it
When examining your skin, you should be careful to look at all moles, especially those that have changed recently or that itch or bleed. You can look for suspicious moles that need to be examined by a doctor by using this ABCD guide, also found on the Web site mentioned above:
A for Asymmetry. If one half of the mole looks different from the other half, the mole is asymmetrical.
B for Border Irregularity. Look for an edge that is ragged or blurred or has notches in it.
C for Color. A mole that has a variety of different colors or shades in it should be brought to your doctor's attention.
D for Diameter. Moles larger than a pencil eraser are of the most concern, but even a smaller mole can be a melanoma, especially if it itches or bleeds or if its appearance has changed recently.
If you notice any of the ABCD signs of a suspicious mole, you should see a dermatologist.