Although by this point in 2016 many people have long given up on their New Year’s resolutions, there is still an easy resolution to keep, and it just might save your life–performing regular self-skin examinations.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. It is estimated that 1 in 50 Americans will develop the life-threatening type of skin cancer, melanoma. However, you can take steps to reduce the risk of skin cancer by avoiding excessive ultraviolet light exposure from the sun and tanning beds. In addition to prevention, early detection is critical to minimize the damage of skin cancer. Most forms of skin cancer, even melanoma, are almost 100 percent curable if caught in the earliest stages of growth. This is why I routinely talk to patients about performing monthly self-skin exams. If a patient notices a growth that has been changing in size, shape, or color, I’ll want to see it right away to evaluate for cacncerous changes.
But how do you do a proper skin exam? It’s easy! Once a month, either getting into or out of the shower, spend a few minutes looking at your entire skin’s surface. A thorough skin exam does not have to take very long, but it requires a long mirror and a hand-held mirror to really see everything. It’s not practical or realistic to spend hours examining every growth on the skin. However, a good skin “look-over” when performed on a regular basis will help you learn the pattern of all the moles, spots, lumps, and bumps. The brain is very good at recognizing patterns and after a few monthly skin exams, will learn the general pattern of growths on the skin. If a new growth emerges, or an old growth becomes larger, people performing regular self-skin exams will notice the change mor equickly and can alert the dermatologist.
Performing regular self-skin examinations is an easy way to take ownership of your skin health. I see men and women in the office all the time who notice a new little spot that “just doesn’t seem right, Doc.” In some cases, these growths were determined to be a very early melanoma. Early melanoma has a 99 percent cure rate, however, if allowed to spread, could have devastating consequences. So get out the mirror and get to know your own skin!