Sarah Cannon - April 13, 2022

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Sarah Cannon recommends regular full body skin self-exams and skin exams by your doctor starting at age 20. To learn more about full body skin exams, check out Full Body Skin Exam: What to Expect on the Sarah Cannon blog. If you're not sure whether what you're looking at might be cause for concern, or if you're worried that you're not doing your self-exam properly, use these tips to help you with the process.

Get to Know the Skin Cancer Guidelines

When it comes to skin cancer, it’s all about paying attention to what looks different than other spots on your skin. Most of us have moles, freckles, and other skin irregularities that aren't signs of cancer, but when there is a change, it's time to get an expert's opinion.

What are the changes listed in the skin cancer alphabet?

  • A = Asymmetry(one half of the growth looks different than the other half)
  • B = Borders that are irregular
  • C = Color changes or more than one color
  • D = Diameter greater than the size of a pencil eraser
  • E = Evolving; this means growth changes in size, shape, symptoms (itching, tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or shades of color

Skin cancer can come in many different disguises, appearing as:

  • A thick and jagged scar
  • A smooth, waxy bump, or a firm red lump
  • A dark (or black) bump that is waxy or shiny
  • A dark patch on your palm or the bottom of your foot
  • A dark band under your nail

When in doubt, check it out. If it is skin cancer, the sooner it's caught and treated, the greater your chances are for recovery.

Know where to look

Both basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Melanoma is an expert at disguise, sometimes masquerading as a new mole and other times developing in an existing mole. It's critical that you know what moles you already have and what they look like, so you can catch changes or new arrivals.

Strip down to your birthday suit and use a mirror to examine less accessible areas of your body such as your scalp, back, and buttocks. To help with this process, download the American Academy of Dermatology’s body mole map from its SPOT Skin Cancer page. Note any changes and bring them to your doctor's attention promptly. Be sure to follow the rules to protect your skin:

  • Visit your primary care physician or dermatologist once a year for a skin exam starting at age 20
  • Limit your sun time
  • Skip the tanning beds
  • Use sunscreen and wear protective clothing

If you have questions about what to look for and where to look for skin cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially-trained to help with your cancer questions or visit askSARAH online.

It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.


NIH National Institute on Aging