Skin and Mole Check - Why?
Melanomas are feared for being potentially lethal cancers. They can strike healthy individuals without warning and rapidly spread via the blood stream to the internal organs.
Fortunately most melanomas develop in places that are visible for us to see, but only if we care to look.
Checking your skin and moles and finding a melanoma at the earliest stage means one can achieve a 100% cure rate. If the melanoma has been allowed to grow unnoticed to more than 4mm deep, the survival rate can fall to less than 50%.
Most melanomas grow SILENTLY without symptoms. Performing your own skin and mole check will increase the chance of early pick up.
Skin and Mole Check - How Often?
Cancer Council recommends all adults should check their skin and moles every 3 months. Those at risk should have a trained doctor examine them at least once a year. Melanomas can develop in between visits to your skin cancer doctor, therefore you should know how to check your own skin and moles.
A melanoma only shows the classic ABCD features listed below when it has grown to a certain size. Therefore do not wait until it has ALL the features. In particular, any CHANGE to a mole needs to be examined by trained doctors with dermoscopy and specialised equipments. If you examine your skin regularly and observe for changes listed below, you will hopefully notice a potential melanoma at the early stage and have it examined.
Below is a guide to checking your own skin and moles. Note it is not intended to replace a skin screening and dermoscopy examination by a trained skin cancer doctor or dermatologist.
Skin and Mole Check - How?
- Obviously you will need a find a private area with good lighting, and preferably with a large full length mirror.
- Find yourself a small handheld mirror to check the difficult to see areas.
- Undress completely (yes – everything off please). Start from the top of your head, scan from one side to the other, paying special attention to your eyebrows, around the eyes, the nose and your ears. Move down, scanning each body part by body part. Use the mirrors to see around difficult areas.
- Note any existing moles, and their rough sizes and positions. You may wish to use a digital camera to record these areas, using the "macro" function if available, or keeping the camera a good distance from the skin to keep the photo in focus. It also helps to put a ruler on the skin to record the sizes of the moles.
- Use a hairdryer to help spread your hair to check the scalp.
- Remember to check the back of your neck and legs. Also remember to check your fingers , toes and the nails.
In the above guide we have focused on melanomas, but do not forget that there are other types of skin cancers that benefit from early diagnosis.
There are some melanomas that do not follow the above rules, including some that do not have any colours. So if you notice any spots that are growing, sores that don't heal, or spots that bleed or become sore, keep your suspicion up and seek an urgent assessment. Feel free to browse at more photos of melanomas as well as of squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas.
If you find a suspicious Mole
We hope the above guide has helped you with performing your own basic skin and mole check. Most importantly, over time you will get to know your skin and moles. To accurately diagnose a skin cancer, you will need to attend your doctor with training in dermoscopy. A biopsy may need to be performed.
REMEMBER – if you suspect a skin cancer especially a melanoma, DO NOT DELAY – the 100% cure rate is only achievable when the melanoma is diagnosed early.