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How to do a skin self-exam & why it’s so important

How to do a skin self-exam & why it’s so important

“Save your own skin.” You’ve likely heard that phrase bandied about when referring to protecting oneself from various dangers in life. Never has that saying been so appropriate as when we’re talking about skin self-exams, which can quite literally save not only your skin, but your life. 

Why skin self-exams matter 

Your skin is a superhero. It’s your body’s largest organ, and it fights every day on the front lines to protect your internal organs and the rest of your body from harmful elements like the sun. But it’s up to you to protect it and inspect it regularly.

That means taking sun-safe steps like using sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds, but also means monthly skin self-exams so you can help spot and stop skin cancer in its earliest stages.  

Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States. Though some people are more susceptible to it than others, such as those with fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, anyone can get it, no matter their race or complexion. 

Every day, about 9,500 people are diagnosed with it, and as many as one in five people will develop it during their lifetime. In 2022 alone, 7,650 people will die from skin cancer

As daunting as those statistics are, the good news is that skin cancer is both largely preventable and highly treatable when detected early. Statistics show the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 95% when treated early, before it has spread, whereas the five-year survival rate plummets to as low as 23% for more advanced stages of the disease. 

How to perform a skin self-exam

Skin self-exams take just a few minutes and should be performed once a month. All you need is a full-length mirror, a hand-held mirror and good light. If you have trouble doing it yourself, enlist the help of a relative or friend. 

You should check your entire body — we’re talking everywhere from between your toes and fingers to the bottom of your feet and everywhere in between. Skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, even under your fingernails or in places that don’t see the sun. 

In general, if you see any kind of spot that stands out from the others on your body, or one that changes shape, itches or bleeds, you should see a doctor. More specifically, you’re looking for the ABCDEs that represent the common characteristics of melanoma: 

  • A is for Asymmetry: Look for spots in which the sides don’t match. One side may be round while the other more angular or jagged.
  • B is for Borders: Typical moles are generally smooth around the border. If you see one with uneven or jagged borders this may be cause for concern.
  • C is for Color: Spots that are multicolored—a mixture of red, brown, white or even blue—should be examined by a doctor 
  • D is for Diameter: Check out the size of your spots. Anything that’s bigger than one-fourth inch (6 millimeters) deserves a professional look. 
  • E is for Evolution: If you notice any change in a mole anytime, consult your doctor. That includes changes in size, shape, color or any other noticeable factor. 

Another easy-to-remember cue is to look for any “ugly ducklings” — meaning any spots that stand out from the others on your body because of their shape, color, size or other differentiating factors.  

If you spot any spots with these characteristics, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. While it may be nothing to worry about, it could mean the difference between simple, early treatment and something much more daunting. 

Skin cancer is a deadly disease no doubt, but in many cases, it doesn’t have to be. While we all get busy, making time for a quick skin self-check each month can truly save your life. Mark your calendar, set a reminder or your phone or do whatever it takes to remember, but do them.

About Parrish Healthcare 

Parrish Healthcare, America’s first Joint Commission Integrated Care Certified network, includes: Parrish Medical Center, one of the nation’s most recognized hospitals for clinical quality, patient safety, and healing environments; Parrish Medical Group, NCQA certified patient-centered medical homes; and Parrish Health Network, a coalition of healthcare providers, insurers and others working together to improve quality and safety and lower healthcare costs on behalf of individuals, families and businesses. Visit for more information.