Skin Self-Exam

What is a skin self-exam?

A skin self-exam is a way to check your skin for problems that may be a sign of cancer. By checking your skin every month, you will learn how your moles look.

Everyone is at risk for skin cancer from current or past exposure to sunlight. If it is caught and treated early, most skin cancer can be cured.

What should I look for?

Most changes in the skin are harmless and not cancer. But some changes may be signs of disease. The type of skin cancer called melanoma is a very serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body.

Moles are small areas of darkened skin. Normally, they have a smooth, even border and are a single color. They may be beige, pink, or dark brown. Think of the letters, A, B, C, and D to remember the guidelines to find moles that may be harmful and should be checked by your healthcare provider:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border: The edges are ragged, notched, or irregular.
  • Color: The color is uneven. Moles may be black, brown, tan, white, grey, red, pink, or blue.
  • Diameter: There is a change in size. Melanomas are usually bigger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).

How should I do a skin exam?

Here is how you can do a skin self-exam:

  • After a bath or shower, stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lighted room. Use a hand-held mirror to look at hard-to-see areas.
  • Check the front of your body and your groin first. Raise your arms and check the front, back, and sides of your arms, your underarms, and your hands. Also, check your fingernails, toenails, soles of your feet, and the skin between your toes.
  • Use a hand-held mirror to check your back and buttocks.
  • Be sure to check the hard-to-see parts of your body, such as your scalp and neck. A friend or relative may be able to help inspect these areas. Use a comb or a blow dryer to help move hair so you can see the scalp and neck better.
  • Pay attention to where your moles are and how they look. It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If your healthcare provider has taken photos of your skin, compare these pictures with the way your skin looks now.

In addition to doing routine skin self-exams, your healthcare provider can do a skin exam during regular checkups.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Most growths and other changes are not a sign of cancer, but the only way to be sure is to see your healthcare provider. If you notice any of these skin changes, see your provider:

  • You have a mole that has any of the ABCD signs.
  • You have any lumps, moles, or sores that grow in size, change color or shape, bleed, are painful, or do not heal.
  • You have a new moles, or a mole you have never noticed before.
  • At times of hormone changes in women, such as adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause, it is common for moles to change. If you notice changes, have your provider check them for you.

If you have a lot of moles, or you have already had skin cancer, you should be sure to have regular exams so that your provider can check your skin. Your provider will look at the treated areas and other places where cancer may develop.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-06-14
Last reviewed: 2013-06-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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