Health & Wellness

How to protect yourself from melanoma: 10 minutes could save your life

When it comes to skin cancer, early detection is crucial. That's why the Skin Cancer Foundation has launched an initiative called Destination: Healthy Skin, where its RV will make 50 stops in 17 states offering free screenings from dermatologists. The first stop? The TODAY show! Dr. Elizabeth Hale did a quick skin scan on Matt Lauer.

"It takes about 10 minutes," said Dr. Hale. "We recommend all adults 18 and over get a check once a year. If you have specific risk factors like a family history of skin cancer, a lot of moles, a history of indoor tanning — you should get checked twice a year."

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See Matt Lauer get a skin cancer check (you should get one too)

Play Video - 2:38

See Matt Lauer get a skin cancer check (you should get one too)

Play Video - 2:38

Melanoma is the deadliest forms of skin cancer. One in 50 Americans will develop malignant melanoma and around 10,000 people will die from it this year. And it's not just a disease that affects the elderly. In fact, melanoma is the second most common form of skin cancer in young females, ages 15-29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Here's why you should do a skin check with a friend: The back is the most common site for malignant melanoma in both men and women. This location makes it hard to detect and often leads to later diagnosis and more difficulty treating.

As we know, the back is hard to reach and difficult to protect with sunscreen. In fact, a recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 37 percent of people never apply sunscreen to their back because it's hard to reach and most people will not ask for help when applying sunscreen.

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How to protect yourself from melanoma

Play Video - 3:30

How to protect yourself from melanoma

Play Video - 3:30

A 10-minute full body check — even better if you can do it with a friend or loved one —can help detect a suspicious spot on your skin. If you detect skin cancer before it spreads, you have a 98 percent chance of cure.

Before you start examining your skin for suspicious moles from top to bottom, strip down to your birthday suit and stand in front a mirror under strong light. Start with the scalp, parting the hair to check the skin and work your way down, using the hand mirror for places you can’t see up close.

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How many sunburns does it take to get skin cancer?

Play Video - 0:54

How many sunburns does it take to get skin cancer?

Play Video - 0:54

You’re looking for: moles that are asymmetrical or have irregular borders; colors that are irregular, diameter bigger than the size of a pencil eraser; anything that’s changing or evolving. Also, be suspicious of moles that don’t go away, growths that hurt or scab or crust or bleed.

Go here to download a mole chart from the American Academy of Dermatology.

It is not just the skin that is most often exposed to the sun that needs to be checked, but every place in between. That means under your arms and between your toes.

Detailed instructions for giving yourself a thorough body check:

  • Strip down to your birthday suit.
  • Make sure you have good light, a hand mirror and a full-length mirror.
  • Start with your scalp ... Separate your hair and look closely.
  • Then examine face, under nose, ears and behind ears.
  • Next look at arms, under arms and backs of arms.
  • Check your chest, then abdomen, pelvis, groin and legs.
  • Sit down and check feet as wells as between toes.
  • Then use your hand mirror with your back to the full mirror to check your back, buttock and back of legs.
  • Every surface of the skin should be checked, even those places where the sun doesn't shine.

What to look for: The ABCDEs of skin cancer:

A ASYMMETRY - One half unlike the other half.

B BORDER- Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.

C COLOR - Varied from one area to another.

D DIAMETER - While melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm, they can be smaller.

E EVOLVING - A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest.

Dr. Debra Wattenberg is an associate clinical professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. For more information about where the Destination: Healthy Skin RV will be stopping, check out their website.

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