8 Ways to Spot Skin Cancer Before It Kills

Even for deadly melanoma, 99 percent of cases are survivable if the tumor is caught early.

Video: Skin Cancer Basics
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When skin cancer is spotted early, it's almost always curable. For melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 99 percent—if the tumor is spotted when it's nothing more than a spot on the skin, according to the American Cancer Society. But that survival rate plunges to 15 percent once the fast growing cancer has spread. I spoke with the president of the American Academy of Dermatology, William Hanke, about how to spot skin cancer before it spreads. Some of his advice:

• Look for new spots. While some melanomas emerge from moles, about 70 percent do not.

• Monitor moles for any signs of change. Moles that change shape, color, or size are big red flags. Look at this helpful Mayo Clinic slideshow to see the gory details of what to look for.

• Be wary of moles that bleed. Normally moles shouldn't, so that's a sign of potential trouble.

• Men, watch your back; women, your legs. It's more common for men to get melanomas on their backs and trunks, while women tend to get them on their legs and calves.

• Guys, monitor the top of your ears and head especially closely. Many hats for men don't shade the ears, and balding men often forget to protect their hairless pates. Both are common sites for squamous and basal cell carcinoma.

• Don't overlook the places where the sun doesn't shine. Many melanomas show up in armpits, hands, belly buttons, underneath hair, the bottom of the feet, and other places that don't get much direct light.

• Have a second pair of eyes look. Have your partner or a family member scour the parts of your body that are tough for you to inspect.

• Call your doctor at the first indication of trouble. The earlier skin cancer is caught, the more curable it is.

This story is part of a U.S. News web series on the risks and benefits of sunlight. Another item published today explains why men die of skin cancer more often than women. We looked at the controversy over indoor tanning yesterday, at a host of health benefits attributed to sunlight on Tuesday, and new evidence that vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin, reduces cardiovascular risk on Monday. U.S. News writers previously explored the risks of indoor tanning, a proposal for new sunscreen labels, a pill intended to supplement sunscreen, and sunscreens that block UVA in addition to UVB radiation. Our next installment in the current series will explore whether ultraviolet radiation penetrates glass.