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General Discussions

Skin Exams

By Lisa Schulmeister, RN, MN, APRN-BC, OCN, FAAN
Instructing patients to self-examine their skin, or have a relative or friend examine the skin, is a recommendation that is frequently made in clinical practice. Usually this instruction is accompanied by other skin cancer prevention and detection tips, such as avoiding tanning beds, using sunscreen, etc. As most clinicians know, it’s easy to instruct patients to examine their skin, but it’s another thing entirely to instruct them on how to do it. Fortunately, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has posted a 2½ minute “SPOT Skin Cancer®” video on YouTube ( The video reviews the ABCDEs of melanoma, and in case you’ve forgotten exactly what these are, they are:
  • Asymmetry. One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
  • Border. The spot has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
  • Color. The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or with areas of white, red or blue.
  • Diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when they are diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
  • Evolving. A mole or spot on the skin that looks different than the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
The short video shows a woman examining a man’s skin, but the narration provides tips for those who are self-examining their skin (e.g. use a mirror, etc.). Many “how to” tips are presented, such as parting hair to examine the scalp, and pointers are included, such as examining between the toes. In the video, the AAD’s “Body Mole Map®” is shown to provide further information on what to look for, and this patient education tool can be found at and then clicking the link to the PDF of the Body Mole Map. Considering that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer and that 1 in 5 of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer during our lifetimes, the AAD has done a major public service by creating and posting the “SPOT Skin Cancer” YouTube video. It’s a great resource and one that should be shared with our patients and the public.
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