Melanoma Skin Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Can melanoma skin cancer be found early?

Melanoma can often be found early. Everyone can play an important role in finding skin cancer early, when it is most likely to be cured.

Skin self-exam

It’s important to check your own skin, preferably once a month. You should know the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any new moles or changes in existing moles.

Self-exam is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to help look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs. Examine all areas, including your palms and soles, scalp, ears, nails, and your back (in men, about 1 of every 3 melanomas occurs on the back). Friends and family members can also help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas, such as your scalp and back.

For a more thorough description of how to do a skin self-exam, see our documents Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection and Why You Should Know About Melanoma.

See the section “Signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer” to know what to look for when doing a skin self-exam.

Exam by a health care professional

Part of a routine cancer-related checkup should include a skin exam by a health care professional qualified to diagnose skin cancer. Your doctor should be willing to discuss any concerns you might have about this exam.

Any suspicious areas or unusual moles should be seen by your primary doctor or by a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin problems. Many dermatologists use a technique called dermatoscopy (also known as dermoscopy, epiluminescence microscopy [ELM], or surface microscopy) to look at spots on the skin more clearly. A digital or photographic image of the spot may be taken. (See the section “How is melanoma skin cancer diagnosed?” for more information.)

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

Last Medical Review: 10/29/2013
Last Revised: 09/05/2014