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Love Your Skin: Monthly Skin Exams

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Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed a blemish on your face, then looked a little closer and realized it’s a brand new mole? It’s situations like this that should remind us all to look a little closer at our skin, especially with the rise in skin cancer rates over the past few decades.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 million new cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Even more alarming, the ACS also projects that in 2009, 8,650 people will die from melanoma skin cancer. With summer right around the corner, it’s a great time to start practicing a monthly skin exam.

To do a full body skin exam, there are a few tools that you will need: a full-length mirror, a hand-held mirror, a comb, and good lighting. Once a month scan your body naked (yes naked!) in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room, usually a bathroom is best. Look for any new moles, skin discolorations, or other skin abnormalities. Use the hand-held mirror to check behind your knees, thighs, shoulders, neck, and ears. Additionally, use the comb to separate your hair so you can thoroughly scan your scalp with the mirror.

A mole check is another important step in a monthly skin exam. Dermatologists recommend using the ABCDE approach: Asymmetry, Border irregularities, Color variegation, Diameter greater than .25" (larger than a pencil eraser), and Evolution of a mole. Take notice of moles that look different from others whether they differ in color, texture, and/or size. Also, carefully watch for moles that change in appearance over time. It may be helpful to take a picture of a suspicious mole and compare it the next month. Be aware of new moles; generally any new mole after age 21 should be carefully examined. Most importantly, see a dermatologist if you are concerned about a mole or any skin abnormality and remember to schedule a yearly skin examination as well.

For more information on skin cancer prevention, visit: www.skincancer.org

Lauren Stewart, MPH, CHES is a Health Educator at the University of Maryland Health Center in College Park, Maryland.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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