The Big Question to Ask Yourself This Month


The American Academy of Dermatology recognizes May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month in an effort to increase public awareness of skin cancer prevention and early detection. This year, dermatologists are banding together to ask, “Who’s Got Your Back?” when it comes to examining the skin for suspicious growths and applying sunscreen.

The back is the most common site for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The problem is, the back is extremely hard to see. The biggest risk factor for these skin cancers by far is exposure to the sun. But if you’ve ever tried to apply sunscreen to your own back, you know how easy it is to miss some spots. When you’re in the sun this summer, find someone to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every few hours when the skin is sun exposed. An even better option is to wear sun protection clothing like a rash guard at the beach or pool. The newest fabrics are lightweight, dry quickly and look very stylish, all while blocking out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

In addition to helping with sun protection, this “buddy system” approach is also helpful with the early detection of skin cancer. If a suspicious mole is present on your back, you may not realize until it’s too late. To detect melanoma in the early stages, it’s best to examine your skin on a regular basis to catch any spots that are changing in size, shape, color or start to itch or bleed. Make sure you include the back. That means asking someone you trust to take a look for you. It’s best to have the same person help each time so they can help you catch changes.

When looking at spots, pay attention for what dermatologists call the “ABCDE” warning signs that a spot might be a melanoma. You should look for moles that have:

  • Asymmetric shape (one half looks different from the other)
  • Borders that are jagged or uneven
  • Color variation
  • Diameter larger than a pencil eraser (although melanoma can start much smaller than this)
  • Evolved or changed over time

Everyone has the power to detect changing moles by performing skin exams on a regular basis. If you find something, bring it to the attention of a board-certified dermatologist for evaluation. Remember, when melanoma is caught in the earliest stages, it’s almost 100% treatable.

For more information about how to prevent and detect skin cancer, including instructions on how to perform a good self-skin exam, visit the American Academy of Dermatology website at