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Skin Check: A Step by Step Exam

You may picture a skin-cancer candidate as blond, blue-eyed and deeply tanned. But the truth is, everyone is at risk for the disease. The most common form of cancer, it strikes 1 million Americans each year and accounts for half of all newly diagnosed cancers.

However, by performing a monthly skin self-exam, you can catch potentially cancerous skin conditions when they are still highly curable.

What you'll need:

• a bright light
• a full-length mirror
• a hand mirror
• a chair
• a blow-dryer

What to look for:

If you notice any of these skin changes, see your physician immediately. He or she can determine if the condition needs further medical attention:

• any new growths, including sores, lesions, nodules and pearly, waxy, colored or suspicious bumps that may or may not cause pain
• a change in a spot or in skin color, itching, scaling, bleeding, pain or tenderness

To identify potential malignancies in moles, follow this "ABCDE" checklist:
• Asymmetry. One half doesn't match the other in shape.
• Border. The mole isn't round, but irregular-with ragged, notched or blurred edges.
• Color. The mole is not a normal, uniform brown but is instead a varying shade (or shades) of tan, brown, black, red, blue, blue-black or white.
• Diameter. The mole is about the size of a pencil eraser-a quarter inch in diameter.
• Evolving. The mole has changed in nature or appearance.

The head-to-toe exam
Use a bright light and check your entire body thoroughly.
• First inspect your face, ears, head and the inside of your mouth using the hand mirror. The blow-dryer will help part your hair for a closer look at your scalp.
• Next, examine your hands (including your fingernails and palms), elbows, arms and underarms. Raise your arms and check your right and left sides.
• Examine your neck, chest and torso. If you're a woman, check beneath your breasts.
• Use the hand mirror to carefully look at your back, shoulders and the back of your neck.
• In the full-length mirror, focus on your buttocks and the backs of your legs.
• Sit down and examine your genitals.
• Inspect your legs and feet, including your heels, soles, toenails and the area between your toes.

Help prevent skin cancer
In the good old days, women carried parasols and men never left home without a hat. It's too bad those good ol' fashions have gone out of style: These days, ozone depletion means the sun's UV rays can do more damage than ever. Yet taking these simple protective measures can prevent up to 80 percent of skin cancers.

• Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's damaging rays are strongest.
• Rain or shine, always wear sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Apply 20 minutes before going outside to allow your skin to absorb the cream.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothes that completely cover you, including a long-sleeved shirt and a long skirt or pants.
• Sport sunglasses that offer UV protection.