Skin Exams

Most skin cancers can be found early with skin exams. Exams by your doctor and checking your own skin frequently can help find cancers early, when they are easier to treat.

Regular skin exams are especially important for people who are at higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a strong family history of skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your skin examined.

Getting your skin checked by your doctor

Some doctors and other health care professionals do skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. They should be willing to discuss any concerns you might have about this exam.

Checking 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, such as the backs of your thighs. 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

illustration of man facing a mirror and looking at his face, ears, neck, chest and belly

Check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly. Women will need to lift their breasts to check the skin underneath.

illustration of a man facing mirror and looking at his underarm area and both sides of his arms then looking down at the tops and palms of his hands and in between his fingers and fingernails

Check your underarm areas, both sides of your arms, the tops and palms of your hands, in between your fingers, and your fingernails.


Sit down

illustration of a man sitting down and checking the front of his thighs, shins, tops of his feet, in between his toes and toenails

Check the front of your thighs, shins, tops of your feet, in between your toes, and your toenails.

illustration of a man sitting and using a hand mirror to look at the bottoms of his feet, calves and backs of his thighs

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.

illustration of man using a hand mirror to check his buttocks, genital area, lower and upper back and the back of his neck and ears

Use the hand mirror to check your 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.

illustration of a man looking at his back in a wall mirror using a hand mirror

Use a comb or hair dryer to part your hair so that you can check your scalp.


The best time to do this simple monthly exam is after a bath or shower. Check any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes. If you look at your skin regularly, you will know what’s normal for you.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 19, 2015 Last Revised: July 26, 2016

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