What do you need to look for?
There are three common types of skin cancer: Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Each has their own set of specific signs, but for self-examination, there are general warning signs to look out for:
A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan brown, black, or multicoloured.
A mole, birthmark or any skin spot that:
- Changes in colour.
- Increases in size or thickness
- Changes in texture
- Is irregular in outline
- Is bigger than 6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser
A spot or sore that:
- Itches or hurts
- Crusts or scabs
- Ulcerates or bleeds
- Fails to heal within three weeks
In other words, be concerned by a lesion that looks different from your other skin spots. The ‘ugly duckling’, benign harmless moles, freckles and seborrhoeic keratoses can be hard to distinguish from skin cancers at times, which is why regular check-ups are so important.
How do you perform a skin check?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to self-screening for skin cancer. This whole process should take no more than ten minutes once you get used to doing it.
1. Assemble these tools:
chair or stool
a piece of paper and pencil to document any growths you find
2. Standing at the mirror, check your face — especially your mouth, lips, nose, ears, and behind your ears.
3. Move your hair aside with a comb or hair dryer and check your scalp. Get a friend or family member to help if you can’t see your scalp.
4. Check your hands and arms. Look at the back of each hand, your palms, and the skin between your fingers and under your fingernails. Examine both sides of your arms by bending your elbows. Also look at your underarms.
5. Check your neck, chest, belly, and sides. Women should also look underneath their breasts.
6. Stand with your back to the full-length mirror and hold the hand mirror in front of you to check behind your neck, your shoulders, and your back. Then look at your buttocks and the backs of your legs.
7. Sit on a chair or stool and examine your genital area. Look over the front of your legs, your feet (soles and tops), and the skin between your toes.
8. Draw a picture or write a description of any moles you find. Cross-reference that description during your next skin self-exam.
When should you call your doctor?
Check your skin once a month. Call your dermatologist if you find any:
spots that have changed colour, size, or shape
sores that don’t heal or that have healed and come back
spots that itch or hurt
spots that ooze, crust over, or bleed
If you have a history of skin cancer, it’s essential to make an appointment to see your dermatologist once every six months or year for a checkup.
If you’d like a more in-depth demonstration, you can watch the Melanoma Foundation Of New Zealand’s video tutorial.
Melanoma New Zealand developed a simple infographic to help. Consider printing it out and placing it on your bathroom or bedroom wall as a reminder