The How&Why of Doing a COMPLETE Skin Inspection on Your Family - from a Dermatologist
Summer’s a great time of year t for a complete inspection of your family’s skin. Let’s look at the value of inspecting your family’s skin, from my perspective of a Board-certified Dermatologist since 1993.
A helpful move is to get your family members completely undressed, then carefully look them over. One helpful measure is to do this every 1st day of the month. Over the last 30 years of practicing Dermatology, I’ve diagnosed many patients with Melanoma, a serious cancer of the pigment-producing cells, simply by getting patients completely undressed, then doing a complete skin inspection, including the back, the hair-bearing areas like the scalp, the underarms and on the backs of the legs. As your family’s initial skin inspector, you can do the same.
Years ago, we Dermatologists taught patient that certain people are “high risk” for skin cancer: redheads, blonds, those who freckle easily, those who love the sun or work in the sun, or those with a history of severe sunburns. “Low risk” people were those who routinely wear sunscreen, avoid the sun and tanning salon bulbs, or who tan easily. We now realize that everyone’s at risk of skin cancer. In fact, African-Americans tend to be diagnosed much later, leading to a higher fatality rate!
Be aware that Skin Cancer affects more than just senior citizens. In fact, the median age for development of Melanoma is 52 years old! That means that half of cases occur in people younger than 52. And don’t forget to inspect your kids. Data shows that several thousand people under the age of 20 develop Melanoma in the U.S. each year, including several hundred below the age of 12.
And doing these inspections is really valuable because you can get family members to the attention of a Dermatologist early, when lesions or growths can be more easily managed.
So what do you watch for? What features of a growth or mole cause higher concern?
Look for what we call the A, B, C, D, E warning signs:
A stands for Asymmetry: one half of the lesion does not match the other half.
B stands for Border: a jagged border, perhaps like the coast of Maine, rather than of Florida.
C stands for Color change: different hues of brown or black within the lesion, or one mole that’s a darker color than the person’s other moles.
D stands for an increasing Diameter of the lesion
E stands for Evolving: if the lesion is changing, it’s best to bring it to the attention of a Dermatologist.
Below is a classic melanoma, up close:
Below is a benign or "good" mole, not considered high-risk:
We know what action to take for suspicious moles or growths: if caught early, generally a simple removal, or “excision” of the lesion under local anesthetic is curative. If the lesion turns out to be a precancerous lesion – such as a high-risk atypical mole – or a full-fledged skin cancer - we often try to ensure that the lesion is completely out – by doing what’s called a “reexcision.”