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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

People at Risk for Skin Cancer Are Good at Spotting Mole Changes

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One-quarter of people in the study could not notice an increase in mole size, and 38% said they noted a change in mole size when, in fact, there was none, From and colleagues report.

The researchers note that the mid-back is one of the most difficult areas to check for skin cancer, thus other areas on the body may yield different results. "The back is the most common spot to develop skin cancer," From tells WebMD. "We thought that if people could notice changes in their back, they could notice changes anywhere on their body."

Noticing any changes is key to the early detection of skin cancer, says Bruce Katz, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center, both in New York City.

"I tell all of my patients that the purpose of skin exams is to know what is normal; this way they can detect any changes right away," he tells WebMD. "When things are changing, it's time to see a dermatologist and have it evaluated right away," he tells WebMD. "If you catch skin cancer early, you can get it before it becomes a big problem. Melanomas are completely curable in most cases if they are caught at an early stage."

To encourage early detection of skin cancer, the ACS recommends monthly skin self exams and a clinical skin exam by a dermatologist every three years for people older than 20 and every year for people older than 40.

To perform a skin cancer self-exam, the ACS suggests starting in front of a wall or mirror with a chair and a handheld mirror. While standing, examine your face, chest, and arms -- both inside and outside -- and your stomach area. Then, sit down and look at the front surfaces of your legs and feet. Use the handheld mirror to examine the back of your legs and the soles of your feet. Then stand up and use the mirror to look at your buttocks and upper back.

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