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Skin self-exam

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.

How to do a Skin Self-exam

Checking your skin regularly can help you notice any unusual changes. Follow your health care provider's recommendations on how often to check your skin.

These tips may be helpful:

  • 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 these things when doing a skin self-exam:

New skin markings:

  • Bumps
  • Moles
  • Blemishes
  • Changes in color

Moles that have changed in:

  • Size
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Shape

Also look for "ugly duckling" moles. These are moles that look and feel different from other nearby moles.

Moles with:

  • Uneven edges
  • Differences in color or asymmetric colors
  • Lack of even sides (look different from one side to the other)

Also look for:

  • Moles or sores that continue to bleed or will not 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 Contact a Medical Professional

Tell your health care provider 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
  • Spot an ugly duckling mole
  • You have a sore that does not heal

Alternative Names

Skin cancer - self-exam; Melanoma - self-exam; Basal cell cancer - self-exam; Squamous cell - self-exam; Skin mole - self-exam

References

American Academy of Dermatology website. Detect skin cancer. www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect. Accessed January 31, 2018.

National Cancer Institute website. Skin cancer screening (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-screening-pdq. Updated November 30, 2017. Accessed January 31, 2018.

US Preventive Services Task Force, Bibbins-Domingo K, Grossman DC, Grossman DC, et al. Screening for skin cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2016;316(4):429-435. PMID: 27458948 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27458948.

Review Date 11/3/2017

Updated by: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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