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Skin Cancer 101: What You Need to Know & How to Check Yourself

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The sun is now out in full force, and along with the warm weather come certain added risks for our bodies—particularly skin cancer.

The first Monday in May is known as Melanoma Monday. This should all tell us that it’s time to take about 10 minutes and check ourselves for skin cancer. After all, skin cancers that are found can almost always be cured.

Keep in mind that skin cancer can happen to anyone of any age, with any skin type, not just people who live for time in the sun. And skin cancer can show up anywhere on your body.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, affecting one in five Americans. That’s a pretty big number for a cancer that many people think only affects those who don’t stay protected from the sun. And while melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer, it is by far the deadliest.

It’s important to know how to check your own skin and identify the warning signs of risks to your skin. Following are the recommended steps for a skin cancer self-examination. If you have a buddy, make a date of it. All you need is bright light, a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, and two chairs or stools. You may also want these body maps and a pencil to rate mole size.

What you are looking for is what is commonly referred to as the ABDCEs of melanoma: asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving.

  1. Examine your face, especially around the nose, lips, mouth and ears. Use both mirrors to see all around your ears.
  2. Inspect your scalp completely. You can use the blow dryer and a mirror to expose each section.
  3. Check your hands carefully. All over. Palms, backs, between fingers and under fingernails. Include your wrists and forearms.
  4. Now use the full-length mirror to examine your elbows, upper arms and your underarms.
  5. Next, focus on your neck, chest and torso. Don’t forget to lift breasts and look underneath.
  6. Inspect your back using the hand mirror and the full-length mirror. Look closely at the back of your neck and shoulders as well.
  7. While still using the mirrors, take a look at your lower back, buttocks and backs of both your legs.
  8. Finally, sit down and prop each leg up on a stool or chair so you can examine your legs and feet. Check everything completely around, even between toes and under toenails. You’ll also need to use the hand mirror to help you examine your genital area.

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