IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

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

Early detection is crucial when it comes to skin cancer. Use these tips to know what to look out for.
/ Source: TODAY

Putting on sunscreen is time consuming and it can be annoying, but it's crucial to protect your skin from sun damage. While you might consider yourself a sunscreen pro at this point, it's easier than you think to miss crucial parts of your body.

Research from the British Association of Dermatologists' Annual Conference found that on average, people missed about 9.5% of their faces when applying sunscreen. They most commonly missed their eyelids and the area between the corner of the eye and bridge of the nose, where your sunglasses sit on your nose.

In the U.S., the back is commonly regarded as hard to reach and difficult to protect with sunscreen. In fact, a recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 37% of people never apply sunscreen to their back because it's difficult to apply and most people will not ask for help.

So it's not surprising that 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.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is estimated that around 9,000 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 cancer in young females, ages 15-29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

So what can you do to prevent it, aside from being diligent about wearing sunscreen? Do a skin check with a friend, or schedule an annual skin scan with your dermatologist.

"It takes about 10 minutes," said Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "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."

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.

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 well 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: 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.