When it comes to your health and skin cancer, it's a good idea to be proactive and keep an eye out for dangerous moles. Moles can be linked to skin cancer. This is especially true if you have a family history of skin cancer linked to moles.
In addition to limiting your exposure to sunlight and using sunscreens, examining yourself for moles can help with early detection of melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer) and treatment.
Skin Cancer Screening Schedule
If you have developed new moles, or a close relative has a history of melanoma, you should examine your body once a month. Most moles are benign (non-cancerous). Moles that are of greater medical concern include those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear in adulthood.
If you notice changes in a mole's color or appearance, you should have a dermatologist evaluate it. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful.
What Should I Look for When Examining My Moles?
Examine your skin with a mirror. Pay close attention to areas of your skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, chest, and head.
The following ABCDEs are important signs of moles that could be skin cancer. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half
- Border: The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular
- Color: The mole has different colors or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red
- Diameter: The diameter of the mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
- Evolving: The mole appears different from others and/or changing in size, color, shape
Keep in mind that some melanomas may be smaller or not fit other characteristics. You should always be suspicious of a new mole. If you do notice a new mole, see your dermatologist as soon as possible. He or she will examine the mole and take a skin biopsy (if appropriate). If it's skin cancer, a biopsy can show how deeply it has penetrated the skin. Your dermatologist needs this information to decide how to treat the mole.
The most common location for melanoma in men is the back; in women, it is the lower leg.
Tips to Consider for Skin Cancer Screening
Keep these tips in mind when screening your moles for skin cancer:
- Use a full-length mirror if you have one. Start at your head and work your way down, looking at all the areas of your body (including the front, backs, and sides of each area, and your fingernails and toenails). Also be sure to check the "hidden" areas: between your fingers and toes, the groin, the soles of your feet, and the backs of your knees. Don't forget to thoroughly check your scalp and neck for moles. Use a handheld mirror or ask a family member to help you look at these areas.
- Keep track of all the moles on your body and what they look like. Take a photo and date it to help you monitor them. This way, you'll notice if the moles change. If they do change in any way (in color, shape, size, border, etc.) or exhibit other ABCDE features, see your doctor. Also, if you have any new moles that you think look suspicious, see your doctor.