Spending some time looking at yourself is actually very healthy. It’s not about vanity, it’s about self-preservation. Many medical issues have warning signs that are visible on the outside, so knowing yourself and noticing when things change allows you to get on top of potential health issues, early. This of course includes the early detection of skin cancer as this potentially lethal disease is, in general, very successfully treated if found early. Having a yearly skin check with a GP or Dermatologist is a must for those who have certain risk factors such as:
Coming in in to see a doctor for a skin check once a year isn’t enough. This is because a skin check is just a ‘moment in time’ analysis and the problem with skin is that it’s possible to change quite quickly, so what wasn’t there 3 weeks ago is suddenly there now. This means that regular self-checks are a must for everyone not just those that are at higher risk.
Below are some simple steps that everyone should follow to keep their skin in check:
- Seasonal skin check - we recommend checking your skin with every change in season. Finding 15 minutes 4 times a year to dedicate to your skin health is not hard.
- Have a check mate - some of the areas of the body most prone to skin cancer can be difficult to self-examine such as the scalp, top of the ears or back. If you’ve got someone you feel comfortable with, ask them to look at these areas and tell you what they see or even better capture it in a photo.
- Ruler #3 - have a ruler...and a camera. Any moles that you find, measure and record. When you see something every day you may not notice gradual changes. The easiest way to do this is to hold the ruler next to the mole and take a photo, that way if it grows, or changes shape or colour you have a comparison.
- From top to toe - make sure you look at your entire body including the soles of your feet as skin cancer can occasionally occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun.
We asked The Dermatology Institute of Victoria Dermatologist Dr Anina Fitzgibbon what it is we are looking for when skin checking:
'Basically when self-checking you are looking for 2 things. First the development of any new spots, and secondly any changes to existing spots. The following can all be considered red flags and if found should be bought to the attention of your doctor ASAP.
- An existing spot that has grown larger
- The edges of a spot look irregular, meaning they dip in and out rather than forming a neat circle
- The spot has variable colours. There is a common misconception that it is really dark spots that are dangerous but in actuality it is often those that show a range of colours that prove to be problematic such as a mixture of different browns, black, blue, red, pink, white or light grey
- The spot is itchy
- The spot bleeds when scratched or bumped
- You have a pimple like lesion, sore or ulcer which won't heal within a month.
It should be noted that most people aren’t born with moles, they typically develop in the early teenage/young adult years so not every new mole is dangerous they generally just need to be watched.'
Remember if you have any concerns about anything you find during a self-skin check seek the opinion of your GP or Dermatologist.
This video put together by Know Your Own Skin (Leo Pharma) provides a really good guide to ‘How to self-skin check".