When To Check Skin Moles And Spot Dangerous Moles

Skin cancer, or melanoma, is on the rise. Here are tips for checking your skin to prevent or detect the onset of this deadly disease.

More people are spending time in the sun without adequate skin protection. As a result, there is a rising number of skin cancer cases being reported around the world. Those with fair skin or a northern European ancestry are at greatest risk, but anyone from any global culture is susceptible, since cases abound in Africa, for example, as well as elsewhere.

If you have fair skin, have experienced one or more severe, blistering sunburns in childhood or since, or spend a lot of time in the sun, you need to check for early signs of skin cancer, called melanoma. Some skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell, are less serious since they spread slowly or tend to stay rooted in the area where they start. But melanoma can enter the blood stream and travel all around the body to cause tumors in organs and distant regions.

The one good thing about melanoma is that you can see it on the skin. That is why a visual examination of your entire body is necessary every year, or more often if you notice new moles or changes in existing ones. Every month you should check your body from head to toe in search of funny-looking spots that may indicate the beginning of skin cancer. The good news is that if caught early, melanoma is highly curable. The bad news is that, left untreated, it can often be fatal.

Stand before a full-length mirror without your clothes. Carefully inspect your face, ears, neck, shoulders, chest, back, and the rest of your body. Check between fingers and toes, your scalp beneath the hair, around your lips and eyes, and even the genitals, as melanoma can occur sometimes in the body as well as on its surface areas. You may want to have a partner help you look for suspicious moles or enlarged freckles. It might help to use a magnifying glass to check out areas that look different or unusual. Here are the four warning signs of possible melanoma. If you have any of these, make an appointment to have your doctor examine suspicious areas:

A is for asymmetry. This means that a mole may have uneven sides, with one looking a little jagged or unmatched with the other side.

B is for border. Moles with an expanding border or an uneven edge, sometimes described as small, finger-like projects, may be symptomatic of melanoma.

C is for color. A mole that is turning cancerous may exhibit different shades of color or an unusual color, such as black, blue, red, white, or mixed. Sometimes it can be brown or tan and not look terribly abnormal but rather different from how it has appeared previously.

D is for dimension. Melanoma can appear in any size mole, but often it is found in those with diameters as large as (or larger than) a pencil eraser.

Report moles with one or more of these characteristics to your doctor and request an examination. Be sure to wear sunscreen when outdoors during the day, or avoid the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You also can cover up during this time by wearing thickly woven clothing that will prevent the sun's rays from damaging your skin.

Melanoma can be a serious disease, but careful screening and prompt attention can help to control the development or spread of malignancies.

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