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Here’s looking at you: checking to detect skin cancer

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

Susan Daron, RN, BSN, OCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

As warm weather approaches and we shed our wool pants and winter jackets for shorts and tank tops, people often ask what they can do to protect their skin. While limiting sun exposure, wearing sunglasses, and applying sunscreen are common sense, there is something else you can do monthly that could your life. It is called a skin check, and doing this can detect skin cancer.

Doing a skin check involves carefully examining all of the skin on your body. Start at your scalp and go all the way down to the soles of your feet and between your toes. During a skin check, don’t leave any area of skin unexamined. Some parts such as your back and neck are difficulty to see, so you may want to ask a partner or spouse to help. Just because the sun’s rays may not reach some areas such as the genitals doesn’t mean you can skip them. Women should examine the skin under their breasts and men should check their scrotal area.

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides step-by-step instructions for completing a head to toe skin examination.

So, how to know if a spot or bump is worrying? Here are some general guidelines from the American Cancer Society about what might be suspicious:

  • Shape is uneven, irregular, with no clear borders
  • Color is not the same throughout
  • Becomes itchy, tender, or bleeds
  • Does not heal
  • Larger than the size of a pencil eraser
  • Does not look like your other freckles/moles

Once you get into the habit of performing skin checks, you will be more attuned to your own skin and notice any changes such as the ones mentioned above. If you have any concerns about your skin findings, be sure to get in touch with a dermatologist or your healthcare provider.

The University of Michigan Health System has developed a free app that can help with the process. It is called UMSkinCheck and can help you set reminders for monthly skin checks, direct you on how to complete a skin check, and monitor any skin changes via photo catalogs. You can find details and download the app here.

Learn more about checks to detect skin cancer:

U-M Health System: Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin Cancer Foundation

American Academy of Dermatology

The American Cancer Society: Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

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