How to Spot Skin Cancer

Woman Examines Her Face in Mirror

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early, when it’s small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.

Your doctor can check your skin carefully during a routine cancer-related check-up. Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.

Use the “ABCDE rule” to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry: One part of a mole or birthmark doesn’t match the other.
  • Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than ¼ inch across – about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Not all melanomas look like this, though, so point out anything you’re concerned about to your doctor. That would include:

  • Any new spots
  • Any spot that doesn’t look like others on your body
  • Any sore that doesn’t heal
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Itching, pain, or tenderness
  • Oozing, scaliness, or bleeding

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.


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