10 Places You Ignore When Checking for Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, but it’s also the most preventable and highly curable if detected early. A head-to-toe monthly check is your best defense.

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Skin Cancer, woman in shower
photo credit: shutterstock

Before you begin a skin check

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canadians, reports the Canadian Cancer Society. Since non-melanoma skin cancers are often diagnosed and treated in a doctor’s office, no official statistics are recorded. However, in 2017, an estimated 7,200 Canadians were diagnosed with the more dangerous type of skin cancer—melanoma. Luckily, 90 percent of skin cancers are curable if detected early. That’s why it’s essential to do regular skin checks. Ideally, the time to do a self-check is when you’re already naked, like before or after you shower or bathe. “We recommend performing monthly skin exams so any new or changing lesions can be detected early,” says surgical and cosmetic dermatologist Adele Haimovic. But it can be difficult to remember where you spotted something or if a mole really grew or changed colour from one month to the other. “Making a note in a journal is a great idea, and taking pictures are even better! It’s always easy to reference a phone picture and then there is little question if it has changed,” says Dr. Haimovic. Follow the ABCDE method when checking: Asymmetry, Borders, Colour, Diameter and Evolution.

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Between your lower digits

When you’re slathering on sunscreen, it’s easy to skip over the areas in between your toes; it’s even more common to completely ignore this area when doing a skin cancer self-check. If you discover pink, pearly, or scaly spots or sores that won’t heal, it could be a sign of a non-melanoma skin cancer says Dr. Haimovic. Luckily, non-melanoma skin cancer is highly curable if found and treated early. “For melanomas, we want to check for a new brown or black spot, however melanomas can lack pigment and present as a pink or red spot,” says Dr. Haimovic. Are you using sunscreen the right way? Find out if you’re making these SPF mistakes.

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Your shutters and peepers

Even if you have an assortment of sunglasses that protect your peepers, you shouldn’t ignore your eyelids and eyebrows when checking for skin cancer. The eyelids are one of the most common sites for non-melanoma skin cancers, says Steven Wang, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Wang Herbal Skincare. The lower eyelid is the most common—44 percent occur there—and the inner eyelid is responsible for 19 percent, according to the Skin Care Foundation. If you discover lumps and bumps that bleed or don’t go away, swollen eyelids or red eye that doesn’t respond to medication, unexplained loss of eyelashes, or the sudden appearance of flat or pigmented lesions with irregular growth and borders, call your doc.

Read up on how a woman’s blurry vision turned out to be skin cancer—in her eye.

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Your ears

The outside of your ear is full of all kinds of nooks and crannies, like the concha cymba and antihelix area. Those curvy features are often overlooked because we tend to focus on the bigger area of the earlobe. Dr. Wang says to look for legions that are raised, have multiple colours or bleeding. Looking for treatment? Here are 3 revolutionary skin cancer treatments that might just save your life.

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Down there

Genitals and the anus. Really? Yep, especially if you like to sunbathe sans swimsuit or lie nude in a tanning bed. Melanomas may begin elsewhere in the body and spread to another site like genitals or the anus. A hand-held mirror or one that is magnified will help you get a closer look for bumps, lumps, mole, and changes in the appearance of the skin. To prevent sun damage, stay away from tanning beds and try this healthy-glow face mist. 

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Under your claws

You would think fingernails and toenails would be pretty noticeable because we use our hands all the time, but it’s a commonly missed spot. During your monthly check, be sure to remove any fingernail or toenail polish. “For melanoma, we are looking for a dark streak on the nail, darkening of the skin next to the nail, and any spots that look like a bruise without known trauma and does not grow out with the nail,” says Dr. Haimovic. Check out what the colour of your nails says about your health.

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Under your boobs

A painful pimple or sebaceous cyst on your bra line is probably the only time you glance under your boobs, but you should check for skin cancer signs while you do your monthly breast self-exam. “Under the breast, we are looking for new or changing moles and pink or skin coloured pearly pimples or scaley bumps that do not resolve,” says Dr. Haimovic. Use a hand-held mirror to get a closer look.

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Search your sole

Non-melanomas on the soles of the feet are a lot less common but that doesn’t mean you should bypass this area. If you notice a bump, a scaly red patch, a sore, or a wart-like bump—and especially if any of those things bleed, get crusty, or ooze—get checked out. Dr. Haimovic says to watch for any new brown or black spots, but remember that melanomas can lack pigment and appear pink or red. Be especially mindful of your soles and palms if you are a person of colour. According to the Skin Care Foundation, dark skin is more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma, a very dangerous type of melanoma.

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Your noggin

It may be easier if you have your partner or a friend help you check your scalp, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to inform your hair stylist to let you know if he or she sees something that looks suspicious. “Look for raised lesions with multiple colours or bleeding,” says Dr. Wang. Pay attention to the top of your head, any areas where your hair is thinning, and any part in your hair. As part of the Become a Skin Checker program, La Roche Posay suggests using a hairdryer to help check for beauty marks on your scalp.

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Your mouth

Open wide and get a mirror because skin cancer can be lurking here, too. Look closely under your tongue, inside your cheeks, and the roof of your mouth. If you have something similar to a canker sore that doesn’t completely heal in three weeks or gets larger, make an appointment; do the same if you see dark red or white patches inside your mouth. Dr. Wang says people who expose their mouth to extreme heat from smoking pipes and other tobacco products have a higher risk of getting skin cancer here. Check out the daily habit that could reduce your risk of cancer by 20 percent.

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Your ink

“Another tricky place that people should make sure to check is in tattoos,” says Dr. Haimovic.”Both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer can hide in your tattoo leading to a delay in diagnosis.” Plus getting inked doesn’t exclude your skin from getting skin cancer. In fact, exposure to ultraviolet light can fade some inks and increase your risk of getting skin cancer. Next, learn about 29 things you think cause cancer but don’t.

A version of this article originally appeared on ReadersDigest.com. It has been updated with Canadian statistics and recommendations. 

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