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Perform a self-exam to rule out skin cancer

By Kathy Hubbard
I got a call from Eddie the other day. He said that he had been to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening. Apparently, he’d been watching a dark patch of skin on the top of his head for some time. He’s bald, you see, so it’s easy to spot the spot. After a couple of years of being told that it was nothing to worry about, this time he was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma. Naturally, it scared him.
Self-examination for early detection of skin cancer is terribly important. So, take a few minutes to follow these easy steps suggested by the Skin Cancer Foundation even if you think you’re not a candidate for one of these most common forms of cancer. The truth is that we’re all susceptible. Ask Eddie.
You’ll need a bright light, a full-length mirror a hand mirror, two chairs or stools, a blow dryer, ruler, paper and pencil. Draw a picture of your body, or a stick figure will work if you can distinguish things like hands, elbows, knees, feet and toes. It doesn’t have to be pretty, no one but you will see it, hopefully.
1. Examine your face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears – front and back. Use one or both mirrors to get a clear view. Mark down any moles or spots. Look for a pearly or waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion that could be a symptom of basal cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma most often appears on the most sun-exposed surface of your body as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
2. Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help, if you can.
3. Check your hands carefully: palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both front and back of your forearms. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, so be sure to be thorough. You’re looking for dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes.
4. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms. Look for a large brownish spot with darker speckles.
5. Next focus on the neck, chest, and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the underside.
6. With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back, and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
7. Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks, and backs of both legs.
8. Sit down; prop each leg in turn on the other stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine the genitals. Check front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine soles of feet and heels.
As you perform this examination mark down any and all spots. Measure the regular moles you’ve had forever so you can check back to see if any changes occur.
A mole that changes in color, size or feel or one that bleeds may be a sign of melanoma.
Other signs include a small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black.
There are other types of skin cancers besides the three most common mentioned here. So the message is to note any unusual lumps or bumps and to watch them carefully. Skin cancer often neither hurts nor itches, so your best diagnostic tool is your eyes.
As with all cancers, early detection can mean a full recovery. So, take five minutes to complete this test. Then repeat it every month or so. If you have any concerns either contact your healthcare practitioner or a dermatologist right away. I’m sure Eddie will.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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