Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Screening for Skin Cancer?

I recently read that we should examine our entire bodies for skin cancer every month. Is this really necessary? If so, what should I look for?

Answer (Published 7/26/2004)

The rate of skin cancer has been rising dramatically, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) now estimates that by the age of 65 between 40 and 50 percent of Americans will have had it in some form. At least one million cases of the most common types of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - are now expected to occur annually in the United States. This is more than twice the number diagnosed 20 years ago. Although these two types of cancer are slow growing and rarely fatal, if neglected they can be disfiguring, and some squamous cell carcinomas can metastasize.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Personal Care - Thousands of people have benefited from Dr. Weil's nutritional supplement recommendations, designed to complement your lifestyle and optimize your health. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation today.

More worrisome is the enormous increase in the rate of melanoma, the most serious and potentially deadly type of skin cancer. Melanoma is now the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women between the ages of 25 and 29, and the second most frequently diagnosed type of cancer (after breast cancer) among women between 30 and 34.

To protect yourself against skin cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation advocates having a yearly skin exam by a doctor and checking your own skin once a month for any changes that could mean cancer. Look everywhere on your body for skin cancers - your head and face (use mirrors) and even your scalp (use a blow-dryer to separate your hair). Also check your hands and fingernails, elbows, arms and underarms, your neck, chest and torso. Women should look under their breasts. Use a hand mirror to check the back of your neck, shoulders, upper arms, back, buttocks and legs and then sit down and check your legs and feet, including the soles, heels and nails. Use a hand mirror to examine your genitals.

Here's what you're looking for:  

  • Moles with uneven borders that are asymmetrical (the halves don't match).
  • Moles colored varied shades of brown, tan or black (ordinary moles usually are a uniform shade of brown).
  • Moles that are at least the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Any changes in shape, size, color, surface smoothness, or elevation of an existing mole.
  • Itching, tenderness or pain in a skin lesion.
  • Scaliness, erosion, or oozing (later, melanomas may crust, ulcerate or bleed).

Along with protecting yourself from skin cancer by staying out of the sun or wearing sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher, it makes sense to check your skin regularly for changes. Melanoma usually can be cured when found early.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here