How to check for skin cancer: Some helpful tips


Anywhere on your skin, including the bottoms of your feet and even beneath your fingernails, is susceptible to skin cancer.n

This is what occurred to Isabel Lievano, who was identified as having melanoma after a persistent black spot beneath her fingernail was identified as the most serious type of skin cancer by her dermatologist.n

Lievano, 69, lost her finger and her life, but she kept her nail.n

Skin Doctor Hope Mitchell, a private practitioner in Ohio. “Skin examinations can assist in detecting skin cancer early, while it is still quite curable. I advise all of my patients to frequently examine their skin for any changes or new growths.”

Mitchell recommended a skin self-exam using what are called the ABCDEs of melanoma.n

A is for asymmetry, in which one half of the spot is unlike the other.n

B is for border, which can be irregular, scalloped or poorly defined.n

C is for color, which can vary from one area to the next with shades of tan, brown or black or areas of white, red or blue.n

D is for diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed. But they can be smaller.n

E is for evolving. The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.n

This video walks you through a skin cancer self-exam:n

It’s also important to check for other types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, a type that grows slowly and deeply.n

Basal cell carcinoma can be a dome-shaped growth; a shiny, pinkish area; a black or brown growth; a white or yellow waxy growth; or a sore that heals then returns.n

Squamous cell carcinoma can be a crusted or rough bump; a red, rough flat area; a dome-shaped bump that grows and bleeds; or a sore that either does not heal or heals and returns.n

While doing a skin self-exam, look at all the spots you see on your body, including moles, freckles and age spots. You can get skin cancer anywhere, including the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, mouth, eyes, genitalia and buttocks.n

In darker skin, it is more likely to develop in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, such as under or around your nails, palms or soles.n

Mitchell recommends using these tips to check your skin:n

  • Examine your body front and back in a full-length mirror. Look at the right and left sides with your arms raised.
  • Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, underarms, fingernails and palms of your hands.
  • Look at the backs of your legs and feet, including the spaces between your toes, your toenails and the soles of your feet.
  • Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look at your scalp.
  • Also check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

“Make sure to record the spots on your skin and nails, including the location of the spot and whether it has changed,” Mitchell said in an American Academy of Dermatology news release. “Ask someone for help when checking your skin, especially in hard-to-see places like the scalp and back. If you notice a spot on your skin that is different from the others or that changes, itches or bleeds, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

More information:
n The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on skin cancer screening.