Post-summer skin cancer check

Sep 01, 2007, 4:00am

Performing a self-exam for signs of skin cancer can be a life-saving health commitment

Key Points

It's the end of summer, and you have one important task to perform - it's a simple self-exam to look for any signs of skin cancer that may have been triggered or stimulated by exposure to the intense summer sun. It's an important commitment to your health - one that could pay off in a potentially life-saving way.

The Skin Cancer Foundation advises that, with the rising incidence of skin cancer in the United States, people should perform a body check for skin cancer every month. It is easy to do, and the whole exam, from start to finish, will only take about 10 minutes.

To perform this exam you will need:

To make each exam truly useful, you need to be able to compare the results of each with the first one you perform. The first exam will be your "baseline" against which you can measure any subsequent changes. So, take a moment to make a diagram of your body and put little marks on areas to indicate the presence of moles, birthmarks, freckles, growths, etc. Use this as a guide for subsequent self-exams.

When performing the exam, start with your face and scalp: pay close attention to your nose, lips, mouth and the fronts and backs of your ears (using the hand mirror). Use the blow dryer and hand mirror to examine your scalp, section by section (ask a friend or family member to help if possible).

Next, examine your hands and arms. Start with the tips of your fingers and work up toward your shoulders. Be sure to check under your fingernails and between fingers. Examine the front and back of your hands and move up your arms. Use a full-length mirror to check the sides of your upper arms, elbows and underarms Next, examine the front of your neck, chest and torso (women should lift each breast to view underneath).

Finally, finish your upper body using the hand-held and full-length mirrors. Start with the back of your neck, then the back of your shoulders, backs of your upper arms and continue down to your lower back. Using full-length and hand-held mirrors, inspect your buttocks and back of your legs. Sit down to inspect your toes, under your toenails, between toes and tops and bottoms of your feet. Move up the ankles, shins, thighs and sides of both legs. Last, but not least, examine your genital area using the hand mirror.

If you notice anything that seems to have changed in recent months or that is consistent with the descriptions noted here, bring it to the attention of your dermatologist.