Checking your skin for changes that could be skin cancer

Checking moles

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Many skin changes are harmless but if you do have skin cancer spotting it early could save your life. 

Start by getting to know what is normal for your skin. After that it will be easier to spot change. Aim to check it every month. You could also see your doctor each year for a skin exam.

About moles and skin cancer

A normal mole is usually an evenly coloured brown, tan or black spot on your skin. It can be either flat or raised and also round or oval.  It is usually less than the size of the top of a pencil.

Moles can be there from birth or can appear during childhood or adolescence. Once a mole appears it will usually stay the same size, shape and colour for many years. It may fade away in older people. Most people have moles and almost all are harmless. But it is important to spot changes in a mole. These changes could be a sign the mole is becoming a melanoma.

Skin changes to look out for

Skin cancers do not all look the same. They can appear in a number of ways including any of the following:

  • A small lump
  • Flat, red spot
  • Firm, red lump
  • A lump or spot that is tender to touch
  • An ulcer that will not heal
  • A lump with a scaly or horny top
  • Rough, scaly patches
  • A new or changing mole

Non-melanoma often appears as one of the following:

  • A new growth or sore that does not heal in a few weeks.
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed.
  • A skin ulcer not explained by other causes.

Melanoma mainly develops from a new mole or a change to an existing mole.  The changes to watch out in existing moles are:

  • Change in shape: From a round and regular shape to ragged edges or an irregular shape with one half unlike the other.
  • Change in size: From the size of the top of a pencil and getting bigger.
  • Change in colour: From one colour to many shades of tan, brown or other colours. Some melanomas can also lose colour
  • The mole looks red or inflamed around the edges
  • The mole is bleeding, oozing or crusting
  • The mole starts to feel different, for example, slightly itchy or painful.

As not all melanomas develop from moles it is important to speak to your doctor if you spot other skin changes that are unusual for you.

How to check your skin

If you have difficulty checking your skin you could ask your doctor or a friend to check those hard to see places. You could also use two mirrors to check your entire body.

Self examination for melanoma

Check yourself regularly - remember, early detection and treatment offers an excellent chance of a cure.
Here are five steps to examine your skin yourself.

(Pictures below reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Dermatology. All rights reserved.)

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