- Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
- What is skin cancer?
- What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?
- Are some people more likely to get sun damage?
- How do I protect myself from UV rays?
- What about tanning pills and other tanning products?
- Skin exams
- What should I look for?
- What if I find something suspicious?
- Additional resources
Most skin cancers can be found early with skin exams. Both regular exams by your doctor and checking your own skin frequently can help find cancers early, when they are easier to treat.
Get your skin checked by your doctor
As part of a routine cancer-related checkup, your doctor should check your skin carefully. They should be willing to discuss any concerns you might have about this exam.
Check your own skin
It’s important to check 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. 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 the underarm areas, both sides of your arms, the tops and bottoms of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, in between your toes, and under your toenails.
You will need a hand mirror for the back of your legs and bottoms of your feet, as well as your back and scalp.
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 the 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.
Last Medical Review: 09/20/2012
Last Revised: 01/25/2013