Doing a skin self-exam involves checking your skin for any unusual growths or skin changes. A skin self-exam helps find many skin problems early. Finding skin cancer early may give you a better chance for being cured.
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How to do a skin self-exam
Experts do not agree on whether or not skin self-exams should be performed. So there is no standard recommendation for how often to perform them.
Checking your skin regularly can help you notice any unusual changes.
- The easiest time to do the exam may be after you bathe or shower.
- If you are a woman and do regular breast self-exams, this is also a good time to check your skin.
- If possible, use a full-length mirror in a room with bright lights so you can see your entire body.
Look for several things when doing a skin self-exam.
New skin markings:
- Changes in color
Moles that have changed in:
- Uneven edges
- Differences in color
- Lack of even sides (look different from one side to the other)
Also look for:
- Moles or sores that continue to bleed or won't heal
- Any mole or growth that looks very different from other skin growths around them
To do a skin self-exam:
- Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
- Check under your arms and on both sides of each arm. Be sure to look at the backs of your upper arms, which can be hard to see.
- Bend your arms at the elbow, and look at both sides of your forearm.
- Look at the tops and palms of your hands.
- Look at the front and back of both legs.
- Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
- Examine your genital area.
- Look at your face, neck, back of your neck, and scalp. Use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
- Look at your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes.
- Have a person you trust help examine hard-to-see areas.
When to call the doctor
Tell your health doctor right away if:
- You have any new or unusual sores or spots on your skin
- A mole or skin sore changes in shape, size, color, or texture
- You have a sore that does not heal
Robinson JK. The Importance of Primary and Secondary Prevention Programs for Skin Cancer. In: Rigel DS, Robinson JK, Ross M, Friedman RJ, Cockerell CJ, Lim HW, Stockfleth E, Kirkwood JM, eds. Cancer of the Skin. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 7.
Screening for Skin Cancer Recommendation Statement Date: February 2009. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. //www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf09/skincancer/skincanrs.htm. Accessed April 14, 2014.
Titus LJ, Clough-Gorr K, Mackenzie TA, Perry A, Spencer SK, Weiss J, Abrahams-Gessel S, Ernstoff MS. Recent skin self-examination and doctor visits in relation to melanoma risk and tumour depth. Br J Dermatol. 2013; 168(3): 571-576.
What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers: How To Check Your Skin. National Cancer Institute. //www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin/page15. (NIH Publication No. 10-7625). Accessed April 27, 2014.