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How to Check a Mole on Your Skin for Skin Cancer

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We all love time in the sun, but it's important to understand the types of risks involved, especially in Australia.

Due to the geographical position of our land, Australians experience a much higher risk of obtaining skin cancer because of a higher level of UV radiation. According to the Cancer Council Australia, 95% of skin cancer results from over exposure to UV radiation.

First and foremost, preventative skin care is the best way everyone can minimise these risk factors and reduce cases of skin cancer. Whatever your age, men, women and children are susceptible to skin cancer, or at the very least sunburn, so everyone in the community should take care during outdoor activities.

But even the best sun safety is not 100% fool proof, and it’s vitally important that you also know the signs of skin cancer and how to check your moles. Even more important than your own check is getting a regular skin check by a qualified doctor who will also catch any signs of skin cancer early and keep an eye on any worrying looking moles.

Not sure where to start with your own check? Here is a guide for how to check a mole on your skin for skin cancer…

Understanding the ABCDE signs of Skin Cancer

For Australians and anyone who has high exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays, learning how to identify skin cancer from normal skin blemishes is an importance skill. The sooner cancer is identified, the sooner treatment can be undertaken and the more effective this cancer treatment will be.

One easy way to remember how to check your skin for cancers is the ABCDE technique, which provides some guidelines for the most common signs and symptoms of skin cancer:

  • A for asymmetry. If a mole is not symmetrical there is a greater chance it could be cancerous. If the two halves of a mole are noticeably different, have them checked.
  • B for border irregularity. Moles with blurred or poorly defined borders or edges are more likely to be cancerous than those that are not.
  • C for colour. Moles that are not a single colour and moles that are quite dark should be reported to a doctor. Moles with various shades should also be looked at by a specialist.
  • D for diameter. Although melanoma can be quite small, moles over a centimetre in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser) should be cause for review. Any large moles or lumps should be checked, even if it's to provide peace of mind.
  • E for evolution. Any old mole in which you have seen change over time could be a sign is worth reporting to a doctor. Along with the above, any bleeding, raised parts of the mole or anything that isn't the same.

This is not to say that moles that do not show these qualities are not worthy of review- it is important for all Australian citizens to monitor the health of their skin, and individuals over 50 should frequently undergo professional skin cancer checks irrespective of their application of the ABCDE technique. If you have a family history of skin cancer, or have been diagnosed with skin cancer before, it's also important to get regular skin checks. However, by using this strategy to keep consciousness and awareness of the state of your skin, substantial health risks can be avoided.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Check a Mole

The first steps to catching any suspicious moles or skin cancers starts at home. Though you'll always need a professional examination to determine for sure, checking your skin, or having another person like a partner help, is the first place to start.

Prepare for self-examination

For a proper self-examination, you'll need to check your entire body from head to toe, so the first thing to do is remove all of your clothing, including underwear, as skin cancer can appear in places not exposed to the sun. Make sure you have some time on your hands, around ten-fifteen minutes, so you can get the job done right.

Examine moles on your body

When examining your skin, we recommend starting from the top and working your way down. This will help you keep track of your progress and which moles you've already checked.

Being thorough is key to a quality skin check. This means moving from your face to check behind your ears, around your neck, using a comb to check your scalp and facial hair and even inside your nostrils. Melanoma and other types of skin cancer can appear anywhere, including some unusual and unexpected places, so remember to also check areas of your body that aren't exposed to the sun, including between your toes, palms, soles of your feet, under your fingernails and around your buttocks and genital area.

Use ABCDE to determine mole quality

Along with prevention and sun protection, early detection is vital in the fight against skin cancer. Using the ABCDE supplies an effective set of guidelines for catching any signs, symptoms evidence or changes in your moles.

When performing a skin check, be on the lookout for anything abnormal with moles and freckles including change in size, diameter, colour, with an unclear border or edge, rough or bleeding surface.

Melanomas can come in a range of colours including black, brown, pink or red. Any mole that has multiple colours or shades needs to be checked.

Also be on the lookout for any unusual growth or lesion that won't heal. Though childhood skin cancer is very rare, it's worth keeping an eye on your children's skin as well.

Document moles for future reference

Changes in an existing mole are one of the biggest warning signs. As part of your skin check, it helps to compare each to others on your body and take pictures for later reference. Make note of the shape, size and any types of change you might be concerned about. It'll also provide your doctor more to work with at your appointment.

Know when to seek professional help

People who notice a change in an existing mole or freckle, the appearance of a new mole or growth that you aren't sure about, need to make an appointment for a professional skin check with their doctor. Often these signs turn out to be nothing, but the potential risk is too high to leave it to chance. A professional skin check takes between 10-30 mins and is completely painless. If necessary, your doctor may take a biopsy for testing and diagnosis.

Tips for self-examination

Knowing the skin you're in is essential for maintaining your health and catching any worrying growths or moles sooner rather than later. Catching skin cancer early will help prevent more severe side effects.

Best time to check for moles

Making skin checks a monthly thing is the best way to stay on top of any changes. Ideally, you should do this in a private area so you can check every section of your body. This includes obvious places like your legs, arms and back, and less obvious areas, like under nails and between your toes.

Use of mirrors and bright lighting

Performing a skin check in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room will make the entire process more effective and efficient. A hand mirror will help examine tricky to see places, like your back, and a light will help you see what you’re looking at.

How to check hard-to-see areas

Moles don't always appear in the most convenient places to inspect, but there are a few ways to get around this. When it comes to checking your back, neck or other awkward spots, a hand mirror will make the job a lot easier. If there's someone, you're comfortable with (partners, family, close friends etc) checking your skin, this is another way to help look at those hard to reach places.

Take pictures of existing moles for reference

You lead a busy life, and after a month, you're not going to remember what every mole looked like. Taking pictures supplies an image for a later point of comparison. When we see something every day, we often don't notice changes, so a picture is a great way to avoid this problem and spot any difference.

Check your skin regularly to detect moles early on

It cannot be emphasized enough that catching skin cancer early improves the probability of treatment being successful. The good news is that ninety percent of melanomas can be treated in the early stages. However, because it's an aggressive cancer, you shouldn't wait if you suspect anything. Though slower growing, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) are still a cause for concern and should be treated early too. While self-checks are essential to catch any changes in your skin, only doctors can diagnose skin cancer and supply adequate treatments.

Prevention is better than a cure

While it’s important to know how to check for a mole, it’s equally as important to be sun safe to prevent skin cancer in the first place.

By making a habit of applying sunscreen, wearing proper clothing and avoiding exposure to the sun during the hours in which the highest percentage of UV rays are present, Australians can substantially reduce their chances of obtaining skin cancer and burns. 

Other things, like avoiding artificial ultraviolet rays from tanning beds, will also go along the way to protecting your skin cells and tissue from damage. 

Book your next skin check at your nearest SunDoctors location

Ready to book your skin check? We offer a number of skin treatment services. For more information, support, resources or to book an appointment with a skin cancer expert, get in touch with your nearest Sun Doctors today!

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