How to Perform a Skin Cancer Self-Exam

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in our country with an estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Learning to perform a skin cancer self-exam is the first step in prevention and treatment. The most common forms of skin cancer include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma

The good news is the vast majority of skin cancers are very treatable when it’s caught early. It’s essential to know what your skin looks like and watch for new, unusual or changing spots.

How often should you check your skin for skin cancer?

While there are no formal skin cancer screening guidelines, many experts recommend doing a monthly skin self-exam.

How to check your skin for skin cancer

To check your skin for potential signs of skin cancer, you’ll need:

  • A full-length mirror
  • A hand mirror
  • A well-lit room

Before checking your skin, remove nail polish from your fingers and toes if you wear it and get undressed. Then, follow these steps:

  • Stand in front of a full-length mirror and look at your body from all angles: front, back and sides (raise your arms when you check your sides).
  • Look at your face, including your nose, lips, mouth and ears.
  • Use a hand mirror to check your scalp and neck. You can also use a hair dryer to help part your hair while examining your scalp.
  • Look at your arms, including your forearms, back of your arms, shoulders, underarms, hands and fingernails.
  • Check your chest, underneath your breasts, abdomen, upper and lower back, buttocks and genitals. Use a hand mirror as needed.
  • Then, examine the front and back of your legs, the top and bottom of your feet, and between your toes.
  • If you need help seeing a certain area, ask a family member or friend for assistance.

Warning signs of skin cancer

Skin cancer symptoms can vary from person to person. Potential warning signs include:

  • A changing mole, birthmark or brown spot
  • A spot that itches, hurts or bleeds
  • A crusty or scabby spot that doesn’t heal
  • A growing spot that’s pearly, black, brown, tan or multicolored
  • A wart-like growth
  • An open sore that doesn’t heal after a few weeks
  • A red or scaly patch

Additionally, it’s helpful to look for the ABCDEs of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry: If you were to divide the spot in half, the two sides don’t match.
  • Border: The spot has an irregular or scalloped border.
  • Color: The spot has different colors within it, such as black, tan, brown, blue, white or red.
  • Diameter: The spot is the size of a pencil eraser or larger. However, some melanomas can be smaller.
  • Evolving: The spot has changed color, shape or size.

When to see a healthcare provider

If you notice any of the above symptoms, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist.

It’s also important to protect your skin from sun damage in the first place by:

  • Applying broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, even if you’ll be inside all day. You can still get UV exposure sitting near a window.
  • When outside, wearing UPF-rated clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Staying in the shade as much as possible.
  • Avoiding sun exposure when the sun’s rays are the strongest—between 10am and 4pm.
  • Never use a tanning bed.

For more information or to find a provider near you, visit

Steven Saldutti. DHSc, MPAS, PA-C

Primary Care Physician Assistant
Pardee BlueMD - Brevard Rd.

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