Tip of the Week
How to Check Your Skin
According to Mona Gohara and Maritza Perez, medical doctors writing for the Skin Cancer Foundation website, Caucasians are the primary victims of skin cancer. However, everyone, regardless of skin color, can fall prey to it. Unfortunately, many patients and even some physicians are under the impression that non-Caucasian people are immune to this disease. That is one reason people of color are diagnosed with skin cancer at later stages. These delays mean that skin cancers are often advanced and potentially fatal, whereas most skin cancers are curable if caught and treated in a timely manner. Tragically, this is what happened to legendary reggae musician Bob Marley: What was dismissed as a soccer injury under his toenail turned out to be an aggressive form of melanoma that ultimately caused his death at 36. Mr. Marley’s story reminds us why both medical providers and the public need to be educated about skin cancer and skin of color.
Symptoms of underlying health problems can usually be spotted somewhere on your skin. It is the largest organ system in your body. Your skin exposes your health secrets.
That’s why a regular self-examination is essential. You can detect a problem early and have it treated before it becomes a major concern.
Skin cancer is among the most common and dangerous types of cancer. If you spent your youth sunning yourself on the beach or performing yard work under the sun, you should regularly check your skin. Also, people who have a family history of skin cancer should check themselves regularly. If you spot anything unusual, or something that makes you curious, consult a dermatologist for further evaluation.
WHAT TO DO
Conducting regular skin self-examinations is the best way to check for development of skin cancer. The best time for a self-exam is when you get out of a shower or bath. Make sure you have plenty of good lighting. You will need a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror.
Become acquainted with your birthmarks, moles, and other marks. Familiarize yourself with their look and feel.
Check for anything new:
— A new mole that is unlike your other moles
— A new red or darker color flaky patch that seems a little raised
— A new flesh-colored firm bump
— A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole
— A sore that doesn’t heal
Check yourself from head to toe:
— Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. A comb or a blow dryer can move your hair so you can better see the area. A relative or friend can help in hard to examine spots such as the scalp.
— Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
— Bend your elbows. Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides) and upper arms.
— Examine all sides of your legs. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.
— Sit and closely examine your feet, including your toenails, your soles, and between your toes.
A regular examination will help you understand what is normal for you. It might be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and note how your skin looks. If a physician has taken photos of your skin, compare your present condition to the photos to help check for changes. If you find anything unusual, contact your doctor.
Preventative measures are the best way to detect any possible signs of skin cancer or other conditions. The sooner skin cancer is detected, the better the chances are of doing something for it.