A woman looks at her skin with a magnifying glass.

More Than a Mole: Changing the Narrative on Skin Checks

“I don’t have any moles. I’m not worried.”

“Yes, I check my moles, and they aren’t changing.”

“When I was a teen, I had my only mole removed. I’m good.”

There’s a common denominator in all the above remarks. See it? Self-exams are our first line of defense in early detection of skin cancer. There is, however, one big problem. Too many of us are relying on self-examination of moles and moles alone. Thoroughly checking moles is a great place to start, but it by no means gives anyone a clear picture of the condition of their skin as it relates to skin cancer.

Moving beyond the mole

Skin cancer won’t always show up in the form of a mole. Checking your skin is about looking for irregularities in the skin that can indicate cancers in addition to melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma can both cause significant damage if left untreated for long periods of time. It is well worth noting that basal and squamous cell carcinomas often take the form of dry flakes of skin and scaly patches that don’t seem to heal. In some cases, skin cancer also takes the form of a pimple-like lesion. If we are only looking at moles and watching for changes, it is more than likely other harmful abnormalities will be missed.

Making your skin check all-inclusive

As you examine your skin each month, look for any change: anything that wasn’t there last month and any changes to spots you previously noted. This seems like such a simple task, but it can be quite involved when you think about a head-to-toe exam, and you don’t want to leave anything out.

Get the obvious stuff out of the way first

Check the moles you know you have - the ones you have had all your life. Give them a good once-over and note changes according to the ABCDEs of melanoma.

Go for the dry skin.

As you move head-to-toe, single out any patches of dry skin that give you fits. Do they heal on their own? Or are they particularly stubborn? Do you have any flakes of dry skin that return no matter what lotion or ointment you apply?

Don’t forget the pimples

Not every pimple is skin cancer just like not every skin cancer stems from a mole. Pimples are worth checking into though if they stick around and don’t seem to fade with time. Note their texture, color, and size along with their location and how long you’ve had them.

Feel your skin, don’t just look at it

I can’t stress this one enough. I know from personal experience that precancerous spots can many times be felt and not seen with the naked eye. My actinic keratosis feels like tiny grains of sand when brushed with the fingers. These spots may require cryotherapy or treatment with topical chemotherapy.

Scar tissue? Yes

If you have previously had skin cancer surgery, examine your scars closely. Look for changes like new raised areas near the scar.

Change your mindset

Think outside the skin cancer-comes-in-moles box:

“I have scheduled my self-exam for the 30th of every month.”

“I am checking my skin, not just my moles.”

“I know skin cancer doesn’t just come in a mole.”

What did your skin cancer look like? Was it out of the norm? Let us know in the comment section.

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