Checking for Skin Cancer

You can find cancer early by checking your skin each month. There are 3 kinds of skin cancer. They are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Doing monthly skin checks is the best way to find new marks or skin changes. Follow the instructions below for checking your skin.

The ABCDEs of checking moles for melanoma

Check your moles or growths for signs of melanoma using ABCDE:

  • Asymmetry: the sides of the mole or growth don’t match

  • Border: the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred

  • Color: the color within the mole or growth varies

  • Diameter: the mole or growth is larger than 6 mm (size of a pencil eraser)

  • Evolving: the size, shape, or color of the mole or growth is changing

Mole with asymmetrical shape. Mole with uneven, blurry borders. Mole with dark and light spots. Mole with 6 mm measurement across diameter. Three moles showing changes in mole over time.

Checking for other types of skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma have symptoms such as:

  • A spot or mole that looks different from all other marks on your skin

  • Changes in how an area feels, such as itching, tenderness, or pain

  • Changes in the skin's surface, such as oozing, bleeding, or scaliness

  • A sore that does not heal

  • New swelling or redness beyond the border of a mole

Who’s at risk?

Anyone can get skin cancer. But you are at greater risk if you have:

  • Fair skin, light-colored hair, or light-colored eyes

  • Many moles or abnormal moles on your skin

  • A history of sunburns from sunlight or tanning beds

  • A family history of skin cancer

  • A history of exposure to radiation or chemicals

  • A weakened immune system

If you have had skin cancer in the past, you are at risk for recurring skin cancer.

How to check your skin

Do your monthly skin checkups in front of a full-length mirror. Check all parts of your body, including your:

  • Head (ears, face, neck, and scalp)

  • Torso (front, back, and sides)

  • Arms (tops, undersides, upper, and lower armpits)

  • Hands (palms, backs, and fingers, including under the nails)

  • Buttocks and genitals

  • Legs (front, back, and sides)

  • Feet (tops, soles, toes, including under the nails, and between toes)

If you have a lot of moles, take digital photos of them each month. Make sure to take photos both up close and from a distance. These can help you see if any moles change over time.

Most skin changes are not cancer. But if you see any changes in your skin, call your doctor right away. Only he or she can diagnose a problem. If you have skin cancer, seeing your doctor can be the first step toward getting the treatment that could save your life.

Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2019
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