Two types of skin examinations
are used to detect skin cancer:
1) Skin self-exam and 2) Exam by a dermatologist or other physician.
Dermatologists encourage regular
self-skin exams because research shows that this exam can lead to
early detection of skin cancer, which can save your life. When
detected early, most skin cancers can be successfully treated. The
following explains what you should know about a skin self-exam.
Everyone Should Perform a Skin
Everyone, not only those with an increased risk of developing skin
cancer, should perform regular skin self-exams. Examining your skin
for suspicious moles and other lesions could save your life. No one
is immune to skin cancer.
Enlist Your Spouse
If feasible, ask someone close to you for help when checking your
skin. A study found that patients benefited when a partner was
involved in their skin self-exams. Specifically, the patients who
were assisted by a partner in performing skin self-exams were more
likely to perform regular exams than those who relied solely on
themselves for motivation. Having a partner also led to the patient
having a more positive attitude about performing skin self-exams and
greater confidence in the ability to perform this exam.
What You Need to Perform a Skin
The following can be helpful when performing a skin self-exam:
Well-lit room that offers privacy
Pen or pencil
Body Mole Map
(This page gives you a place to record where spots appear on your
skin. Referring back to your record the next time you perform a skin
self-exam can help you detect changes.)
How to Perform a Skin Self-Exam
An illustrated guide that shows how to examine your skin appears
on the right. This guide also appears on the
Body Mole Map.
It is important for you or your partner to examine your entire body
as skin cancer can occur anywhere, not only on areas frequently
exposed to the sun. Be sure to check your back, scalp, underarms,
genitals, palms, soles, and skin between the toes and fingers. When
examining your scalp, it may help to part the hair to check the
What to Look for During a Self-Exam
You should become familiar with your birthmarks, blemishes, and
moles so you know what they look like and can spot changes. As you
or your partner examines your skin, look for changes
in the size, color, shape, or texture of a mark on your skin. Signs
of skin cancer include:
Mole that is different from the
rest, itches, bleeds, or is changing in any way — even if the
mole is smaller than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil
Sore that never fully heals
Translucent growth with rolled
Brown or black streak underneath a
Cluster of slow-growing, shiny pink
or red lesions
Flat or slightly depressed lesion
that feels hard to the touch
If You Find a Suspicious Lesion
If you or your partner finds a suspicious lesion, see a
dermatologist. When making the appointment, be sure that the person
making the appointment knows why you want to see the doctor. Skin
cancer has a high cure rate when detected early.
To help you spot a suspicious lesion, the American Academy of
Dermatology created the following visual guides:
American Academy of Dermatology, “New
Studies Support Dermatologists Recommendation: Self-Exams,
Screenings Vital for Detecting Skin Cancer,” News release issued
May 5, 2008. Last accessed November 25, 2008.
Robinson JK, Turrisi R, Stapleton J. "Examination of mediating
variables in a partner assistance intervention designed to increase
performance of skin self-examination." J Am Acad Dermatol
2007; 56: 391-7.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
following illustrates how to examine your skin for signs
of skin cancer. Information about what to look for and
details on how to examine your skin are described on the
Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then
right and left sides with arms raised. Women should look
under their breasts.
Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper
underarms, and palms.
Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces
between your toes, and on the soles. If you cannot see
all parts of your feet, use a handheld mirror.
Examine the backs of your neck and scalp with a hand
mirror. Part your hair to examine the entire scalp.
Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand