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Skin self-exam

Skin self-exam means checking your own skin regularly for any abnormal growths or unusual changes. A skin self-exam helps find any suspicious skin problems early. The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the better chance you will have for a cure.

How the test is performed

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend that people perform a skin self-exam once a month.

The easiest time to do the exam may be after you take a bath or shower. Women may wish to perform their skin self-exam when they do their monthly breast self-exam . Men may want to do the skin self-exam when they perform their monthly testicular self-exam .

Ideally, the room should have a full-length mirror and bright lights so that you can see your entire body.

When you are performing the skin self-exam, look for:

  • New skin markings (moles, blemishes, changes in color, bumps)
  • Moles that have changed in size, texture, color, or shape
  • Moles or sores that continue to bleed or won't heal
  • Moles with uneven edges, differences in color, or lack of even sides (symmetry)
  • Any mole or growth that looks very different from other skin growths

Experts recommend that you examine your skin in the following way:

  • Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
  • Check under your arms and on both sides of each arm.
  • Examine your forearms after bending your arms at the elbows, and then look at the palms of your hands and underneath your upper arms.
  • Look at the front and back of both legs.
  • Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
  • Examine your genital area.
  • Look at your face, neck, back of the neck, and scalp. It is best to use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
  • Look at your feet, including the soles and the space between your toes.
  • Have a person you trust help by examining hard-to-see areas.

Special considerations

Always tell your doctor if:

  • You have any new or unusual sores or spots on your skin
  • A mole or skin sore changes in size, color, or texture
  • You have a sore that does not heal

Updated: 7/11/2012

Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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