The American Cancer Society recommends a cancer-related checkup, including a skin examination, every three years for people between 20 and 40 years of age, and every year for anyone age 40 and older.
It also is important to check your skin, preferably once a month. You should be familiar with your pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles and other marks on your skin, so that you will notice any changes.
Have a doctor look at any moles or spots on the skin that are changing in size, shape or color. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking or change in the way the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer.
Know the difference in appearance between melanoma and an ordinary mole. Most people have moles, and most moles are harmless. But it is important to recognize changes in a mole that can suggest a melanoma may be developing.
The ABCD rule can help distinguish a normal mole from a melanoma:
--Asymmetry: One-half of the mole does not match the other half.
--Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are ragged or notched.
--Color: The color of the mole is not the same. There may be differing shades of tan, brown or black, and sometimes patches of red, blue or white.
--Diameter: The mole is wider than six millimeters (about one-fourth inch). Any sudden or continuing increase in size should be of special concern.
For more information on skin cancer, call the American Cancer Society's 24-hour cancer information line, at 1-800-ACS-2345, or visit www.cancer.org.