Frequent head-to-toe self-exams are one of the best ways to detect skin cancer early, when it is most treatable. Be sure to check the areas that are often overlooked, which are indicated in the following graphic. A skin-cancer screening performed by a doctor (see below) should also include these areas.

To perform a self-check: You’ll need to fully undress and do the exam in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror (and have a hand mirror available).

To ensure that you are checking your skin correctly, follow these steps…

  1. Stand in front of the mirror and look at your face, neck and stomach. (Women should look under their breasts.)
  2. Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
  3. Look at the front and back of your forearms.
  4. Look at your hands, including between your fingers and under your fingernails. (Be sure to remove any nail polish from fingers and toes.)
  5. Look at the front, back and sides of your legs.
  6. Sit down and examine your feet, checking the soles and the spaces between the toes. Also, check the nail beds of each toe.
  7. Check your back, buttocks and genitals with a hand mirror.
  8. Part your hair and examine your scalp. Use a comb or a hair dryer along with a hand mirror to help you see better. (Have a friend or loved one help with this if needed.)

Signs to watch for: If you find signs of skin cancer, see your health-care provider for a more thorough screening. Signs vary depending on the type of skin cancer, but they may include…

  • Change in an existing mole or spot.
  • Mole or other skin mark that oozes, bleeds or becomes crusty.
  • Mole that is painful to the touch.
  • Sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks.
  • Shiny pink, red, pearly white or translucent bump.
  • Mole or sore with irregular borders that may bleed easily.

Remember ABCDE: During a self-exam, be alert for signs of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. An easy way to remember the signs of melanoma is to think of “ABCDE,” which stands for…

  • Asymmetry: The mole has an odd shape, with half of it not matching the other half.
  • Border: The border of the mole is ragged or irregular.
  • Color: The color of the mole is uneven.
  • Diameter: The mole is bigger than the size of a pea or a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: The mole has changed in size, shape or color.

If you find signs of melanoma, see your health-care provider as soon as possible.

Also: Talk to your health-care provider for advice on the frequency of your self-checks and regular skin-cancer screening exams performed by a dermatologist. The recommended frequency of skin exams performed by a doctor is based on your personal risk factors, including skin type, history of sun exposure and family history, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Source: National Institutes of Health,