Be Your Own Skin Cancer Detective

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, striking more than two million Americans each year, and on the rise. But it is also easiest to cure, if diagnosed and treated early. CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton shared how you how to be your own skin detective.

Ashton explained, "There are the main types of skin cancer: the most common forms: basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas and the less common, but more serious kind, melanoma. Because each has many different appearances, it is important to recognize the early warning signs of melanomas."

Use the "ABCDE" system to find skin cancer warning signs:
A stands for asymmetry. If you draw an imaginary line through the center of a mole, the two halves will look different in shape, color or both.
B is for border. Look for edges that are uneven, scalloped or blurry.
C is for color. A normal mole is one color throughout. Melanomas may contain different colors or different shades of a color.
D stands for diameter. Most melanomas are 1/4 inch (roughly the size of a pencil eraser) or larger.
E is for evolving. If any spot changes, it should not be ignored. Have a doctor take a look.

But will a changing spot be painful?

Ashton explained, "Not necessarily. Skin cancers may be painless, but still be dangerous. So everyone needs to be vigilant and check themselves carefully. Melanoma can develop in areas that don't normally get sun, so it's important to check all areas of the body."

To check your body, The American Academy of Dermatology says skin self-exams should be performed once a month, in addition to an annual full body exam by your doctor. A self-exam involves systematically combing your entire body for skin changes.

Ashton said, "You'll need a few helpful aides for the exam: a bright light, a full length mirror, a hand held mirror, a hair blower. But there are some places you can't forget to check for hidden spots. And don't be afraid to get naked!"

Ashton suggested these tips:
Start from the top down. Examine your face, including nose, lips, mouth and ears. Inspect your scalp, using a blow dryer to expose each section.
Check hands, palms, between the fingers.
Using the full length and hand held mirror, check the backs and fronts of your arms, torso, legs and back.
Don't forget to check all the nooks and crannies of your feet.

In addition to self-exams, you can protect your skin from harmful rays. Ashton said, "About 90 percent of non-melanoma cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun."

She suggests avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, you should try not to burn. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, and reapply sunscreen every two hours.
So here are some tips for enjoying the sun safely.

For more on how to prevent skin cancer, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website.

Also, The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) is offering free in-person skin cancer screenings, nationwide, now through December, visit ChooseSkinHealth.com.
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