Year-Round Skin Care: How to recognize early signs of skin cancer

Part 2
March 8, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2016

In part two of this three-part series on skin care, Dr. Ariel Ostad, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University, tells how to check yourself for skin cancers.

Dr. Ostad: Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in your skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. For most people, once a month is ideal, but ask your doctor if you should do more frequent checks. 

After the first few times, self-examination should take no more than 10 minutes—a small investment in what could be a life-saving procedure.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Because each has many different appearances, it is important to know the early warning signs. 

Look especially for change of any kind. Do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt. Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. If you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin.

Here’s what to look for:

• A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
• A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that changes color, increases in size or thickness, changes in texture, has an irregular in outline, is bigger than 6 millimeters or1/4 inch (the size of a pencil eraser), appears after age 21
• A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
• An open sore that does not heal within three weeks

Dr. Ostad has a private practice on the Upper East Side.