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Questions for the Experts: How should I examine my skin for possible skin cancer?

Questions for the Experts: How should I examine my skin for possible skin cancer?

We asked members of our medical staff to answer some common questions they hear from their patients.

Q: How should I examine my skin for possible skin cancer?

A: It’s best to do a skin self-exam in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You can use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs. A spouse or close friend or family member may be able to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like your back or scalp.

The first time you examine your skin, spend time carefully going over the entire surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes next time. Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you.

Follow these step-by-step instructions to examine your skin:

  • Check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly. Women will need to lift their breasts to check the skin underneath.
  • Check your underarm areas, both sides of your arms, the tops and palms of your hands, in between your fingers, and your fingernails.
  • Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, in between your toes, and your toenails.
  • Now use a hand mirror to look at the bottoms of your feet, your calves, and the back of your thighs, first checking one leg and then the other.
  • Use the hand mirror to check your buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back, and the back of the neck and ears. Or it may be easier to look at your back in the wall mirror using a hand mirror.
  • Use a comb or hair dryer to part your hair so that you can check your scalp, or have your hairdresser do this at your appointment.

The best time to do this simple monthly exam is after a bath or shower. Check any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes. If you look at your skin regularly, you will know what’s normal for you.

If you have any areas that concern you, be sure to show them to your doctor. Many skin cancers can be treated successfully once they are diagnosed. As a Radiation Oncologist, I often use radiation therapy to treat skin cancer. This type of therapy can target specific areas of the skin with little discomfort and often no scarring and provides the best cosmetic outcomes.

John Stamato, MD, Radiation Oncologist, sees patients at the Heptner Cancer Center at Campbell County Memorial Hospital, 501 S. Burma Avenue in Gillette, Wyoming. Call 307-688-1950 for more information. Learn more at www.cchwyo.org/cancercare.