Melanoma survivor? You really need to check your skin!

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Skin self-exam: Thorough skin self-exams can help melanoma survivors find new cancers early.

Have you been diagnosed and treated for melanoma? If so, skin self-exams are essential. Once you’ve had melanoma, you have a higher risk of getting another one. It’s also possible for the cancer to return.

Checking your skin helps you find melanoma in its earliest stage. The earlier melanoma is found and treated, the greater the likelihood that it will be completely removed.

Seeing a dermatologist? Skin exams still essential

Even if you keep all follow-up appointments with your dermatologist, skin self-exams are important. Studies show that skin self-exams help melanoma survivors find earlier melanomas.

If you’re like many melanoma survivors, you may feel that you don’t have the skills to check your skin. You may feel uncertain about what to look for. This can leave you feeling that only your dermatologist should check your skin. That’s understandable.

Because skin self-exams are so important, dermatologists have worked with the AAD to create materials that can help you check your skin with confidence. With these materials, you can quickly learn what to look for, how to check your skin, and when to call your dermatologist.

What to look for

To make it easy for people to remember what to look for on their skin, dermatologists created the ABCDEs of melanoma. These five letters describe what early melanomas look like. To be a possible melanoma, a mole or other spot on your skin need only have one of the ABCDEs:

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  A = Asymmetry
One half is unlike the other half.
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  B = Border
An irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
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  C = Color
Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
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  D = Diameter
Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
     
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E = Evolving
A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

Your partner can help you check your skin. A research study found that partners of patients with melanoma can effectively perform skin exams and find new melanomas.

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How to check your skin

Now that you know what to look for, it can be helpful to watch someone perform a skin exam. In this short video, you’ll review the ABCDEs of melanoma and see how a partner can help you check the hard-to-see areas like your back and scalp.

Skin self-exam: How to do (2:26)

What you need

If you prefer to check your skin by yourself, you’ll need the following:

  • Full-length mirror
  • Handheld mirror

The AAD's Body Mole Map can also help. On this one-page sheet, you’ll find the ABCDEs of melanoma, pictures that show you how to perform a skin self-exam, and a place to record what your moles look like so that you can spot a change.

How often you need to check your skin


This varies. Ask your dermatologist how often you should check your skin.

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Ready, set, check your skin

Today is a great time to practice what you’ve learned. Find a quiet, private place where you can check your entire body for the ABCDEs of melanoma.  Be sure to check your arms, feet, space between your toes, scalp, back, and buttocks.

If you feel uncertain about anything, such as how to spot the ABCDEs or check your scalp, be sure to let your dermatologist know. Your dermatologist can show you exactly what to do.

When to call your dermatologist

You want to call your dermatologist’s office immediately if you find anything on your skin that is:

  • Similar to any of the ABCDEs of melanoma
  • Growing
  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • Changing in any way

Be sure the person who answers the phone knows that you’ve had melanoma and just found a suspicious spot. The earlier melanoma is found and treated, the greater the likelihood that it can be completely removed.


References
Coups EJ, Manne SL, et al. “Skin self-examination behaviors among individuals diagnosed with melanoma.” Melanoma Res. 2016 Feb;26(1):71-6.

Körner A, Drapeau M, et al. “Barriers and facilitators of adherence to medical advice on skin self-examination during melanoma follow-up care.” BMC Dermatol. 2013 Mar 1;13:3.

Robinson JK, Wayne JD, et al. “Early detection of new melanomas by patients with melanoma and their partners using a structured skin self-examination skills training intervention: A randomized clinical trial.” JAMA Dermatol. 2016 Sep 1;152(9):979-85.


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