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Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Self-Exams And Prevention Strategies

Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Self-Exams and Prevention Strategies

Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70? However, if you and your dermatologist find and treat skin cancer early enough, there’s a strong chance that everything will be alright. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re sharing the Skin Cancer Foundation’s campaign, The Big See, to encourage everyone to check their skin monthly.

Keep reading for some skin cancer statistics, eight easy steps to perform a skin cancer self-exam, and some simple prevention strategies.

Skin cancer statistics

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US and worldwide, with more new cases diagnosed in the US each year than all other types of cancer combined. Anyone can develop skin cancer, no matter their age or skin tone, and it can develop on any part of the body.

Here are a few more skin cancer statistics:

  • Actinic keratosis is the most common precancer, affecting over 58 million Americans.
  • Approximately 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
  • Daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher can reduce your likelihood of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40%!
  • Indoor tanning beds emit UV radiation that is 10 – 15 times higher than the sun at its peak intensity.
  • The estimated five-year melanoma survival for people with dark skin tones is only 70%, compared to 94% for people with fair skin tones.


What to look for during your monthly skin cancer self-exam

Regular self-exams are a great way to get to know your skin so that it’s easier to notice changes that could be warning signs for cancer. So, what should you look for when performing your skin check? Look for anything NEW, CHANGING, or UNUSUAL:

  • NEW = any new spots or moles, especially if they appear after age 21, could be a warning sign for cancer.
  • CHANGING = a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and neither should you! If any existing moles or spots have changed in size, shape, color, or texture, it could be a sign of cancer.
  • UNUSUAL = if one spot or mole is different from the others on your body, called the “ugly duckling sign,” or if it itches, crusts, hurts, or bleeds for over three weeks, it could be a sign of cancer.

If you notice something NEW, CHANGING, or UNUSUAL, you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist right away. Remember that early detection is essential to the best possible skin cancer outcomes, so don’t drag your feet if you notice something suspicious.

If nothing on your body is NEW, CHANGING, or UNUSUAL, then you can mark your calendar for one month later to perform your next check.

Tip for the ladies: schedule your skin cancer self-exam and your breast self-exam on the same day so that you never forget either!


Simple steps for a skin cancer self-exam

With two mirrors or a trusted loved one, you can complete your monthly skin cancer self-exam in just a few minutes. Just follow these eight easy steps:


1. Start with your face

The lips, nose, mouth, and ears (front and back!) get a lot of UV exposure, so they’re common sites for skin cancer to develop. Use as many mirrors as it takes to get a really thorough look at your entire face and ears.


2. Check your scalp

Having a friend or family member assist with this area is helpful. If you’re doing your own check, one easy trick is to use a blow dryer to move your hair around to help you see all of the areas of your scalp.


3. Scan your hands

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas often develop on the backs of the hands, but luckily this is the easiest part of your skin to check! Make sure you turn your hands over and look at your palms, and don’t forget to look for changes in your nail beds. Continue up your wrists and then examine the fronts and backs of your forearms.


4. Examine your arms

A large mirror is helpful for this step. Stand in front of the mirror with your shirt off. Start at the elbows and scan the sides and fronts of your upper arms. You should also lift your arms to check the backs of them and your armpits.


5. Inspect your torso

In this step, focus on your neck, chest, and stomach. Women should also lift their breasts to examine the skin underneath.


6. Scan your upper back

Having a second mirror or trust friend is essential for this step. Begin with your upper shoulders and the back of your neck. Check your upper back, as well as any parts of your upper arms that were difficult to see in Step 4.


7. Check your lower back

Continue Step 6 by scanning down your lower back, your buttocks, and the upper back of both legs.


8. Examine your legs

This final step is easiest to complete while seated. Lift your legs one at a time and place them on a stool or second chair, if necessary. Use your hand mirror to check your inner thighs on both sides and your genitals (yes, you can get skin cancer anywhere!). Then, check the fronts and sides of both legs from the upper thigh to the ankle. Don’t forget to inspect the tops of your feet and your toenail beds. Finish up by checking the soles and heels of your feet, which are a common spot for melanoma in people with fair skin.

That’s it! If you notice something NEW, CHANGING, or UNUSUAL, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist right away.


Easy ways to prevent skin cancer

Finding skin cancer early is important, but preventing it is even better. Use the following strategies to protect your skin from UV exposure and reduce your chances for developing skin cancer:

  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, even if you’ll be indoors because UV rays can still pass through most windows.
    • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping infants under six months old out of the sun entirely because their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or more often if swimming or sweating excessively (refer to your sunscreen bottle for specifics, as each brand is a little different).
  • Don’t forget to put sunscreen on the backs of your hands, especially after washing.
  • Wear a chapstick with SPF.
  • Avoid being outdoors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • While outside, wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants with a UV protection factor (UPF) of 50 or more. Don’t forget your broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking eyewear.
    Avoid tanning beds entirely.


See something suspicious?

If you ever notice something on your skin that worries you, schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists. Patient health and safety is our highest priority, so we’re currently offering telemedicine visits. If one of our physicians determines that there’s a concern that warrants a face-to-face visit, we’ll schedule a follow-up appointment in-office.

For patients who visit us in person, we’re offering staggered schedules and encouraging patients to check-in over the phone and then wait in their vehicles until an exam room is available. We’ll call you when your room is ready, and you can head straight back to minimize contact with others and limit exposure to any germs or viruses.

If you have any questions about telemedicine visits, steps we’re taking to keep patients and providers safe and healthy, or to schedule an appointment, please call our office.


As the largest medical and surgical skin treatment and wellness facility in Central Ohio, the board-certified dermatologists at the Center of Surgical Dermatology specialize in skin cancer diagnosis and treatment. Contact us to learn more or schedule a skin care consultation.


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