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Cancer Health Library : Skin Cancer


Cancer Types - Skin Self-Examination

How to perform a skin self-examination

Finding suspicious moles or skin cancer early is the key to treating skin cancer successfully. A skin self-examination is usually the first step in detecting skin cancer. The American Skin Cancer Society (ACS) suggests once-a-month skin self-examinations. The following suggested method of self-examination is from the ACS (you will need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, and a brightly lit room):

  • Examine your body front and back in mirror, then the right and left sides, with your arms raised.
  • Have a family member or close friend help with the exam. When a trusted person finds a suspicious lesion, you may be more willing to acknowledge there is a problem. In addition, another person will be able to look at hard-to-see areas, such as the nape of the neck or under the hairline.
  • Bend your elbows, look carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms, and the palms of your hands. Check between your fingers and look at your nail beds.
  • Look at the backs of your legs and feet, spaces between your toes, your toenail beds, and the soles of your feet.
  • Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror.
  • Check your back, buttocks, and genital area with a hand mirror.
  • Become familiar with your skin and the pattern of your moles, freckles, and other marks.
  • Be alert to changes in the number, size, shape, and color of pigmented areas.
  • Watch for an "ugly duckling sign" on your skin, such as a spot that looks different from all other marks on your skin.
  • Follow the ABCDE chart when examining moles of other pigmented areas and consult your doctor promptly if you notice any changes. The ABCDEs are:
    • A. Refers to asymmetry.One half of the mole or birthmark is different than the other half.
    • B. Refers to border:  The mole's edges are irregular or blurred.
    • C. Refers to color:  The mole's color is brown, black, or has patches of red, white, pink, or blue.
    • D. Refers to diameter:  The mole or spot is larger than  6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch—the size of a pencil eraser.
    • E. Refers to evolving changes. Look for changes in the size, shape, or color of existing moles. 

In addition to the ABCDE guidelines, other warning signs include:

  • Changes in how the area feels, such as itching, tenderness, or pain
  • Changes in the skin's surface, such as oozing, bleeding, or scaliness
  • A sore that does not heal
  • New swelling or redness beyond the border of the mole

Remember that not all moles follow the ABCDE rules or the additional warning signs. It is important  to notify your doctor about any skin changes that look different from the rest of your moles, freckles, or other marks. 

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