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Melanoma: Steps for self examination


Summertime offers ample opportunity for fun in the sun. However, too much time outside could harm your skin, causing sunburn or leading to something as serious as skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 91,270 new melanomas will be diagnosed this year alone, expected to take the lives of 9,320 individuals. These statistics alone make learning more about melanoma critical to living your best life. Knowing how to check for cancerous moles and following healthier habits to reduce your risk for skin cancer is important for adults of all ages.

Reducing your risk
Don’t let the idea of skin cancer keep you from spending time out in the sun this summer. Just prioritize skin protection with the following tips recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Use sun lotion with at least SPF 15.”

Wear protective clothing – Use articles of clothing to protect your arms and legs from harmful UV rays. Also wear a hat and sunglasses to shield your eyes, ears, head and neck from the sun.
Always use sunscreen – Use sun lotion with at least SPF 15 that offers both UVA and UVB protection.
Be aware of peak sun hours – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are most dangerous for UV exposure.
Don’t use tanning beds – Indoor tanning can increase your risk for melanoma by as much as 75 percent, according to the Skin Care Foundation.

Warning signs of skin cancer
The first step to identifying cancerous moles early on is understanding what to look for. Before you reach out to a dermatologist or melanoma specialist, you can give yourself a self examination and identify the ABCDEs of your moles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology:

A is for asymmetry. Is one half of the mole different from the other?
B is for border. Is the border irregular or poorly defined?
C is for color. Does your mole vary in color, ranging from shades of tan, brown or black? In some instances, it may even be white, red and blue.
D is for diameter. Moles that are larger than 6 millimeters in length can often be ruled out as melanoma. You can use a pencil eraser to determine the width of your mole.
E is for evolving. If you’ve noticed your mole is constantly changing in size, shape or color, it may be cancerous.

Woman in bra facing back to cameraCheck your backside for unusual moles.

Self examination
Now that you understand what to look for, giving yourself a head-to-toe examination for cancerous or precancerous spots is critical. Finding unusual moles early allows you to get them removed before they turn into a serious problem that can’t be reversed. To perform the self exam, gather the following tools:

  • A bright light
  • Full-length mirror
  • Hand mirror
  • Two chairs
  • A blow dryer
  • A pencil with an eraser

Follow this step-by-step checklist when searching for cancerous spots, as suggested by the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  1. Start with your face. Use mirror to look closely at your nose, lips, mouth and ears.
  2. Using a blow-dryer and mirror, expose each section of your scalp to check for moles.
  3. Next, check your hands thoroughly. Look at your palms, backs and wrists, between your fingers and underneath your fingernails.
  4. Move to the full-length mirror and examine your arms, underarms and elbows.
  5. Looking in the mirror, remove your shirt and examine your neck, chest and torso. Women with large breasts should remember to thoroughly inspect the undersides of the area.
  6. Now, turn your back to the full length mirror and use the smaller mirror to look at your shoulder, upper back and neck.
  7. Move down to your lower back, backside and backs of your legs and ankles.
  8. Finally, sit down on one chair and prop your foot up on the other. Using the hand mirror, check your thighs, genitals, shins and ankles, moving down between your toes and under your toenails. End by examining the soles and heels of your feet.

If you spot any irregular moles during your examination, use the pencil eraser to measure its width to determine its status.

Visit Maryland Plastic Surgery for a professional opinion
While color adjustments in moles are a normal part of aging, using the steps previously listed can help you understand if the darkened area is an issue. If you’re unsure whether your mole is cancerous, visit the world class physicians at Maryland Plastic Surgery. They can help you determine the health of your skin and eliminate any problems they find. The doctors can use top quality equipment to remove cancerous moles and sew the skin layer shut using surgical excision.

To learn more about your options, schedule your complimentary consultation today.

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