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Check your skin for signs of cancer

A shirtless woman with her back to the camera rubs her shoulder

Protect yourself from skin cancer with regular, easy and quick self-exams. (2 min. read)

Skin self-exams are one of the keys to finding skin cancer early, when simple treatment is most likely to be effective.

That's why the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that everyone perform these exams regularly, whether they're at risk for skin cancer or not.

You'll need a well-lit room, a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to inspect your whole body thoroughly, or the help of a close friend or family member. The AAD lists these body parts to check:

  • The front and back of your body, and then your left and right sides with your arms raised. Women should look under their breasts.
  • Your forearms, underarms and palms.
  • The backs of your legs and feet, between your toes and the soles of your feet.
  • The back of your neck and your entire scalp, parting your hair if needed.
  • Your back and buttocks.

Throughout the exam, look for changes in the appearance or texture of any mole or growth on your skin. Also use the "ABCDEs" to remember these additional common traits of cancerous moles:

  • Asymmetry, or halves that look different from each other.
  • Border irregularity, such as raggedness, notches or blurry edges.
  • Color that isn't consistent throughout the mole.
  • Diameter greater than 6 millimeters, about the size of a pencil eraser. Although melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer, are usually bigger than 6 millimeters in diameter, they can be diagnosed when smaller than that.
  • Evolving, changing in size, shape or color.

Also look for these other possible signs of skin cancer:

  • A sore that doesn't heal.
  • A brown or black streak under a nail.
  • A scaly patch.
  • A dome-shaped growth.

If you notice anything during your self-exam that could be skin cancer, the AAD recommends contacting your dermatologist immediately.

Reviewed 9/27/2023

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