Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer in New Zealand. Each year, more than 80,000 Kiwis develop skin cancer, compared to a total of 16,000 for all other types of cancer combined.
Skin cancers are typically highly treatable when they’re caught in the early stages of development. That’s why we strongly recommend regularly performing a thorough self-examination to supplement your annual professional skin check.
In this blog post, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about checking your skin and how to identify the common warning signs associated with skin cancer.
Who should do a skin self-check?
Everyone should do skin self-checks! They are particularly important if you:
- Have fair skin
- Have a history of skin cancer
- Spend a lot of time outdoors
- Have many moles or freckles
- Have had many sunburns
- Have reduced immunity
What to look for during a self-examination
Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the three most common types of skin cancer. Each skin cancer type has its own set of symptoms, but for self-examination purposes you don’t necessarily have to be able to tell the difference between them.
Instead, keep an eye out for the following general warning signs:
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan brown, black or multicoloured
- A mole, birthmark or spot that changes in colour, shape or size
- A mole, birthmark or spot that is larger than 6 mm
- A spot or sore that itches, hurts, crusts or bleeds
- A spot or sore that fails to heals within three weeks
Equipment for performing a skin self-check
To conduct a thorough skin self-examination, you’re going to need a few simple tools, including:
- Full-length mirror
- Handheld mirror
- Bright light
How to perform a self-examination
Once you’ve assembled your supplies, you’re ready to perform the self-examination. The whole process should take you no longer than about 15 minutes after you get used to the routine.
- Start with your face: Standing in front of a well-lit mirror, check your face for skin irregularities, paying special attention to your mouth, nose, lips and both sides of your ears.
- Check your scalp: Use a comb and a mirror to separate your hair and carefully inspect your scalp. Ask a friend or family member to check hard-to-reach places.
- Examine your arms and hands: Inspect your palms, the back of each hand, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Use a mirror to examine both sides of your arms, including your underarms.
- Check your torso: Examine your neck, chest, belly and sides. Women should also look at the underside of their breasts.
- Inspect your back: Standing with your back to the full-length mirror, use the handheld mirror to check your back, shoulders and neck. Lower the handheld mirror to check your buttocks and the backs of your legs.
- Examine your lower half: Sitting on a chair, examining your genital area, the front of your legs, ankles, tops and soles of your feet and the skin between your toes.
- Document your findings: Use the pen and paper to draw a basic diagram or document any moles, birthmarks, growths or spots that you find. Store the document in a safe place and cross-reference your findings with the results of your next self-check.
You should seek further help from your doctor or a skin specialist when you find anything that concerns you.
How often should I do a self-check?
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend performing a skin self-check at least once every three months. It’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different and some people may benefit from more frequent self-examinations. For more specific advice, please talk to a skin treatment specialist.
If in doubt, phone a professional skin specialist
Regular self-checks are key for detecting the early warning signs of skin cancer. As with most types of cancers, the earlier you detect skin cancer, the simpler the treatment will be. Be mindful of changes in your skin and make an appointment with a skin treatment specialist as soon as you observe any of the signs described in this article.
Combining clinical expertise with state-of-the-art facilities and more than 50 years of collective dermatological experience, Skin Centre is the provider of choice when it comes to skin care in New Zealand.