Although the American Cancer Society does not have guidelines for the early detection of skin cancer, knowing your own skin is important to finding skin cancer early. Be aware of your normal pattern of moles, freckles, and blemishes. Many doctors also recommend regular skin exams. Exams by your doctor and checking your own skin frequently can help find many skin cancers early, when they are easier to treat.
Regular skin exams are especially important for people who are at higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a strong family history of skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your skin examined.
Getting your skin checked by your doctor
Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. They should be willing to discuss any concerns you might have about this exam.
Checking your own skin
Many doctors recommend checking your own skin, preferably once a month. A skin self-exam is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You can use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs. A spouse or close friend or family member may be able to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like your back or scalp.
The first time you examine your skin, spend time carefully going over the entire surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes next time. Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you.
Follow these step-by-step instructions to examine your skin:
Face the mirror
Check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly. Women will need to lift their breasts to check the skin underneath.
Check your underarm areas, both sides of your arms, the tops and palms of your hands, in between your fingers, and your fingernails.
Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, in between your toes, and your toenails.
Now use a hand mirror to look at the bottoms of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs, first checking one leg and then the other.
Use the hand mirror to check your buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back, and the back of the neck and ears. Or it may be easier to look at your back in the wall mirror using a hand mirror.
Use a comb or hair dryer to part your hair so that you can check your scalp.
The best time to do this simple monthly exam is after a bath or shower. Check any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes. If you look at your skin regularly, you will know what’s normal for you.