Skin self-exam

  • Definition

    Skin self-exam means checking your own skin regularly for any abnormal growths or unusual changes. A skin self-exam helps find any suspicious skin problems early. The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the better chance you will have for a cure.

    How the test is performed

    The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend that people perform a skin self-exam once a month.

    The easiest time to do the exam may be after you take a bath or shower. Women may wish to perform their skin self-exam when they do their monthly breast self-exam. Men may want to do the skin self-exam when they perform their monthly testicular self-exam.

    Ideally, the room should have a full-length mirror and bright lights so that you can see your entire body.

    When you are performing the skin self-exam, look for:

    • New skin markings (moles, blemishes, colorations, bumps)
    • Moles that have changed in size, texture, color, or shape
    • Moles or lesions that continue to bleed or won't heal
    • Moles with uneven edges, differences in color, or lack of symmetry
    • Any mole or growth that appears very different from other skin growths

    Experts recommend that you examine your skin in the following way:

    • Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
    • Check under your arms and both sides of each arm.
    • Examine your forearms after bending your arms at the elbows, and then look at the palms of your hands and underneath your upper arms.
    • Look at the front and back of both legs.
    • Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
    • Examine your genital area.
    • Look at your face, neck, back of neck, and scalp. It is best to use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
    • Look at your feet, including the soles and the space between your toes.
    • Have a person you trust help by examining hard-to-see areas.

    How to prepare for the test

    How the test will feel