Skin Cancer: Early Detection Starts with You

I’ve already discussed how important it is to wear sunscreen every day, regardless of the weather, since the sun is directly responsible for causing up to 80% of visible aging. More importantly however, the sun also is responsible for causing 90% of skin cancers.

Skin cancer may not get as much press as other cancers, such as breast, lung, or prostate; but the fact is that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.”


These statistics do not need to be this high. The fact is that skin cancer is quite possibly the most preventable type of cancer. Adding sunscreen to your daily regimen and teaching your children about the importance of doing so is something you have control of. There is no reason not to.

Early Detection

Besides prevention, the next thing we need to be doing on a regular basis is self examinations. Skin cancer, besides being the most preventable of cancers, is also the easiest to cure if it is detected early enough. We all hear about the importance of self breast exams, but we don’t hear as much about self skin exams. Please start doing self skin examinations. Start now, and make it a regular thing.

It is also crucial that you have an annual full body skin check done by a dermatologist (physician who specializes in diseases of the skin). A dermatologist will look for anything that seems abnormal, and will show you how to do the same in your self exams. It is important to thoroughly check the entire body– every nook and cranny. Skin cancer can manifest anywhere; not just areas exposed to the sun.

ABCD(E) Skin Cancer Screening Checklist

The key to early detection of skin cancer is identifying any irregularities and/or changes in existing moles or freckles, not just looking for new ones. In school we learned about the ABCD checklist for skin cancer screening. You can add an E to that as well. This is an easy way to remember what to look for in your self skin checks.

A. Asymmetry. Normal freckles and moles are symmetrical (the same on both sides). Anything that is abnormally shaped should be checked out.

B. Border. Any freckle or mole that has a border that is scalloped, indistinct, blurry, or jagged could be malignant melanoma.

C. Color. Normal freckles and moles are usually just one uniform color. Melanomas typically are variegated; they have more than one shade of tan, brown, black, red, blue, and even white.

D. Diameter. This refers to the size, not the shape of the freckle or mole. Common moles and freckles are smaller than 6mm (about the size of a pea or a pencil eraser). Anything larger should be examined by a dermatologist, because early melanomas are usually larger than 6mm.

E. Elevation. This refers to the height of the freckle or mole. Some normal moles are raised above the surface of the skin; you should look for any changes in the elevation. If something protrudes more than normal, or if something appears sunken into the skin you should have it checked.

Aside from the ABCDE checklist, you should check for any changes in the mole or freckle as well as the skin surrounding it: softening, hardening, scaliness, redness, bleeding, scabbing, oozing, swelling, etc. Also note any itchiness, pain, or areas of numbness.

Skin cancer is not a fun topic to discuss by any means, and as an aesthetician it would not be in my scope of practice to make any diagnoses or perform cancer tests or treatments. However, it is my responsibility to spread awareness and help educate people on skin cancer prevention and early detection. I hope this post has done that.

For more information, please visit The Skin Care Foundation’s website at http://www.skincancer.org. They have all the information, statistics, and resources you need.


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