Self-examination of the skin, key in the early detection of skin cancer

According to data from the World Health Organization, cases of skin cancer are growing faster than any other type. Worldwide, 132,000 melanomas and 3 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. However, it is also the most preventable tumor and, when detected and treated early, has a good prognosis . For this reason, dermatologists insist on the importance of applying preventive measures, such as adequate sun protection and good skin monitoring to detect early those spots or spots that may be suspicious. 

Learn how to watch your moles

Self-examination of the skin is an important method when diagnosing cancer as soon as possible; since, being a superficial organ, it is easier to detect any anomaly.

What is the purpose of self-examination?

The objective of skin self-examination is that each person knows the characteristics of their skin, so that, in the event of any change, they go to the doctor for the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Changes can be both the appearance of a new lesion (mole, spot, scab …) and variations of an existing one (a mole that changes shape, size, color …).

Characteristics of melanoma

The appearance of the lesions that skin cancers can present is very varied. In the case of carcinomas, the appearance of spots (generally reddish) that can peel and bleed, nodules (rounded elevations or prominences in the skin) and ulcers that do not heal stand out. In melanomas, the characteristics that the lesions present most frequently are determined by the rule of A, B, C, D. 

A:  Asymmetry
B:  Irregular and spiked edges.
C:  Varied color, not homogeneous. For example: from light brown to black.
D:  Diameter greater than 6 mm.
E:  Evolution. Change of aspect regarding size, color or thickness. 
Before any injury that presents any of these characteristics, you should consult the dermatologist as soon as possible. In the case, for example, of having a significant number of moles (we are talking about 100), periodic reviews must be carried out with the specialist.

What should you focus on self-exploration?

It is recommended to explore your skin once a month without forgetting any part of the body; including the scalp. The room where you do it must be well lit, and have an adequate temperature that allows you to be naked. You also need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, a chair, and a stool.

  • Examine your face: look at the nose, lips, mouth and also behind the ears. 
  • In front of the mirror, visualize the front of the chest, abdomen, pelvic region and legs, arms and forearms, hands, interdigital spaces and nails. Also inspect the face and neck, back of the elbows and forearms, armpits, and under the breasts. 
  • With your back to the full-length mirror and with the help of the hand mirror , inspect the back of the body: neck (not forgetting ears), shoulders, upper and lower back, buttocks and legs.
  • Also check your hands, palms, back and also between fingers.
  • Sit with your feet on a stool and, with the hand mirror, observe the genital area, and the sides of the legs up to the ankles. Continue to inspect the feet (sole and back), toes, interdigital spaces, and nails.  
  • As the end point of the scan, proceed to examine the scalp. To do this, stand in front of the mirror and use a hair dryer. If a family member or friend can help you, it will make your job easier. 

The skin has memory: watch out for burns!

Never forget that the skin has memory and that sunburns are aggressive injuries that, repeatedly and in the long term (20-30 years), can lead to cancer. “However, it should be noted that, although the most visible injury is sunburn, it is not necessary to have a burn in order for the UV rays of the sun to cause DNA damage and subsequently cause skin cancer. The most important injury is not visible to the naked eye, even if it occurs at the molecular level, ”explains Santiago Méndez, a doctor at  Infocáncer , the AECC’s free telephone service to attend to issues related to cancer.

Good habits in sun exposure

Therefore, good habits of sun exposure from childhood are key: 

  • Wear appropriate clothing and accessories to protect the skin.  The use of dark colors, long sleeves, caps, umbrellas and UV-rated sunglasses is ideally recommended. There is also clothing with built-in sun protection.
  • Apply sun protection all year.  Remember that sunburn can occur at any time of the year; so it is important to use a sunscreen not only on the beach or the pool. Choose a high-factor one with UVA and UVB coverage. Remember that sunscreen begins to take effect about half an hour after application and only lasts 2 or 3 hours. Finally, something very important that you should not forget is that being brown does not protect (would be equivalent to a FPS 3-4, that is to say nothing).
  • Don’t expose yourself to the sun unnecessarily.  Seek shade whenever possible and do not expose yourself to the sun in the central hours of the day (between 12 and 4 pm). 


The information provided by this means cannot, in any way, replace a direct health care service, nor should it be used for the purpose of establishing a diagnosis, or choosing a treatment in particular cases.
In this service no recommendation will be made, explicitly or implicitly, about drugs, techniques, products, etc … that will be cited for informational purposes only.
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