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How to Administer Self-exams

Skin Cancer Self-Exam
©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Skin that has been evenly browned by the sun may look healthy. However, as you've no doubt heard, sun exposure -- even the amount that it takes to give your cheeks just a hint of ruddy glow -- can damage your skin. It may even cause skin cancer. 

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is also largely preventable. The best defense is protective clothing and sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.  

The effects of sun damage are cumulative. Often, the effects go unnoticed and untreated from year to year. The worst damage is usually caused by exposure to the sun during the first ten years of a person's life.  

Early detection and treatment of skin cancer greatly improve a patient's prognosis. Fortunately, unlike other cancers, skin cancers are usually visible to the naked eye, even in their early stages. If you are in a high-risk group, dermatologists recommend that you conduct a thorough self-examination for skin cancer regularly. Follow the procedure outlined below. You will need a full-length mirror, a handheld mirror, and good lighting.

  • Disrobe and examine all parts of your body for moles, birthmarks, discolorations, and new or unusual-looking lesions. 
  • Use the handheld mirror to examine your buttocks, back, neck, and face. Lift your hair out of the way to get a clear view of your ears and hairline. If you cannot clearly see a part of your body, ask your partner or a close friend to help you. Don't neglect parts of your body that never see the sun. Cancers can develop in those areas, too.
  • Make mental or handwritten notes of the size, location, and appearance of your most significant moles and birthmarks. Keep these notes on hand to review during your next examination. Be sure to write down any changes you see developing over time.
  • Pay special attention to dark, pigmented, or irregularly shaped lesions.

When evaluating a mole or other lesion, remember the A, B, C, D, and E of skin-cancer warning signs:

  • A stands for asymmetry.
  • B is for border irregularity (frilly or poorly defined edges).
  • C is for color variation (especially black, tan, brown, white, or red).
  • D is for diameter larger than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).
  • E is for an evolving lesion -- one that changes size, shape, shades of color, or has surface bleeding.

Many factors work together to improve (or damage) your health and longevity. Visit these links to learn more about staying healthy and avoiding illness.

  • Your family history and your lifestyle are just a few of the variables that affect your overall health. Learn more in How to Assess Your Health.
  • The word "cancer" strikes fear in anyone's heart -- the collection of diseases we know as cancer is the second-largest cause of death in the United States. Learn more in How Cancer Works.
  • A new vaccine is now available to protect against cervical cancer, the second-most common type of cancer in American women. Read How the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Works to learn more.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.