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How to Do a Skin Self Examination for Skin Cancer

Updated on April 9, 2013
A mirror is one of the few necessary tools to do a thorough early detection skin self examination.
A mirror is one of the few necessary tools to do a thorough early detection skin self examination. | Source

Pictures of Skin Cancers

Melanoma: Note the irregular shape, the different colors within the area and the irregular borders.
Melanoma: Note the irregular shape, the different colors within the area and the irregular borders. | Source
Basal cell skin cancer: This is the most common form of skin cancer. Note the irregular surface and borders.
Basal cell skin cancer: This is the most common form of skin cancer. Note the irregular surface and borders. | Source
Squamous cell skin cancer
Squamous cell skin cancer | Source

Skin Cancer Facts and Figures

Maybe you've thought once or twice about doing a skin cancer self-examination and just never got around to it, or you're sitting on the fence now because you're not sure of the value of a self-exam for skin cancer.

After prevention early detection is the most important aspect of preventing the complications of untreated skin cancer, including death.

These skin cancer facts and figures may help you make that decision to begin skin cancer self examination and stay at it monthly:

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States
  • In 2009, more than 61,000 were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, the most malignant form of skin cancer; more than 9,000 people died from it
  • Worldwide, nearly 200,000 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin
  • In the UK in 2010, malignant melanomas were diagnosed in nearly 13,000 people
  • The highest rates of diagnosed malignant melanomas worldwide are in Australia and New Zealand
  • Over the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined in the United States
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime

Why Do a Skin Self Exam?

How to Do a Skin Cancer Self Examination

Tools needed:

  • Full length body mirror
  • Hand held mirror or a partner
  • Pencil/pen and paper or body map

You can obtain free body graphic/recording tools for your early detection of skin cancer self exam at any of these sites:

How to Do a Skin Self Exam

Steps for Doing Skin Self Exam for Skin Cancer

Steps for doing skin self exam for skin cancer:

  • Begin at the top of your head, examining scalp, face, ears, behind ears, neck and throat. On the body map, record freckles, moles, discolored areas and bumps. Note size and shape, whether smooth or raised, or any of these areas that may also be flaky, bleeding or itchy.
  • Examine your trunk, front and back and record findings as for head and face
  • Facing the mirror, extend your arms into the air and examine your armpits, sides of the body and underside of your arms and record your findings
  • Extend your arms to the front of you, examining the top surfaces of your arms and hands. Turn your hands over to examine the palms and check the webbing between each finger. Record your findings
  • Look at the fronts and backs of both legs and feet. Check the webbing between your toes. Record findings
  • Examine your genitalia and record findings
  • If you have a partner or trusted friend or family member, ask them to assist you with looking at the skin of your back and any other areas that are difficult for you to see well

What to Expect at a Skin Cancer Screening

How Often Should You Do Self Exams for Skin Cancer?

Early detection skin self examinations for skin cancer should be performed once a month. If you do monthly breast self exams or monthly testicular self exams, do your skin self exams at the same time, making it easier to remember to do them.

If you have children, their skin should also be examined once a month for early detection of skin cancer. Get them involved, according to their age and attention spans. Record findings on a separate body map for each child. You'll be instilling a valuable lifetime habit and have the opportunity to teach them about skin cancer prevention techniques too.

It is recommended that everyone see a dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening. Take your body map records to your screening exam as the information may be helpful to the doctor.

Value of Skin Cancer Self Examinations

What to Look for in an Early Detection Skin Self Examination for Skin Cancer

In order to make your early detection skin self examination for skin cancer the most effective tool it can be, you need to know what to look for. The ABCDE's of skin cancer provide an easy method to remember what's important to know and record about the moles on your body:

  • A is for Asymmetry: Both halves of a mole should be alike in size and shape. If you could fold the mole in half, would the two sides match up?
  • B is for Border: The border of the mole should be even -- without irregular shape, scalloping or a poorly defined border
  • C is for Color: A mole should be just one color. Variations in brown, black, tan or even white, blue or red may signal a problem area to be checked by your health care provider
  • D is for Diameter: Most benign moles are 6mm in diameter or smaller -- the size of a pencil eraser.
  • E is for Evolving: Moles that change in size, color, texture or other changes from one skin self exam to another may indicate skin cancer.

Any findings in your skin self exam that deviate from the normal should be discussed with your health care provider.

A mole or other area that has even a small amount of bleeding, itching or flakiness for more than a few days, or a sore that doesn't heal, should be reported to your health care provider.


This hub is informational in nature and not intended to take the place of medical advice. Consult your health care provider for any questions or concerns you may have about skin cancer or skin cancer self examination.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      LesleySherwood, so happy to hear the information about skin self exams for skin cancer is useful to you. I have some moles I keep an eye on as well, so the research done for this hub was useful to me, too.

      I appreciate your read and comments.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is such useful information. I have had a mole or something grow over the last 20 years. I have checked with my GP who said it was okay, but I would never have known what to look for until reading this article. Now I will keep a definite eye on it. Thank you.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alison Graham, thank you for reading and Sharing. I hope this information empowers those who read it to take further control of their health through the once-a-month skin self exams.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 

      5 years ago from UK

      Thank you for an interesting an informative hub that will be a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know about how to check their skin for the early signs of skin cancer. Your information is spot on, voted up and shared on Pinterest.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      TheKatsMeow, I'm glad you found it beneficial. It is a little frightening to realize that the incidence for skin cancer increases each year, but by doing regular early detection skin self exams we can take some of the fear out of those statistics.

      I appreciate your read and comment.

    • TheKatsMeow profile image


      5 years ago from Canada

      This is really an important Hub. I hope that everyone reads this and gets educated on the issue. Going to share this one with my friends and family. thanks for posting!


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