How (and why) to do a self-exam for skin cancer

Early detection of skin cancer can be a life savior. A monthly self-examination that includes a thorough check up of the skin detects skin cancer at its nascent stage. Here is how you can do it.

Vasudha Bhat
CancerWritten by: Vasudha BhatPublished at: Jun 01, 2015Updated at: Jun 13, 2016
How (and why) to do a self-exam for skin cancer

No matter how scrupulous you are when it comes your health, a thorough head-to-toe self-examination of your skin is mandatory. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a monthly self-examination of skin helps you notice change in lesions which might be cancerous or precancerous. Here is how you recognize skin cancer by self-exam.

Skin cancer self examination

The need for self-examination for skin cancer

Skin experts believe that it is self-examinations that help in detecting skin cancer by giving showing the warning signs. When done regularly, they can alert you about changes in skin and increase chances of detecting skin cancer at a nascent stage. For most people, a monthly DIY exam for skin cancer is sufficient. But, before you take that frequency for granted, consult your doctor. After the initial few tests, your monthly self-examination should not take more than 5-10 minutes. Yes, that is all it takes to recognize skin cancer by self-exam and to save a life.

Find a bright room

Before you get started with your monthly self-examination for skin cancer, make sure you are in the correct settings. For your DIY exam for skin cancer, the recommended place is a brightly lit room. Try to set a three-way mirror room but if that isn’t available, a full length mirror would also do.


Once you are in the right setting, scrupulously start examining the front and back of your body in the mirror. While your arms raised above, make use of the acronym ABCDE to help you detect suspicious moles.

  • Asymmetry-mole’s halves don’t match
  • Borders are uneven
  • Color isn’t uniform
  • Diameter is larger than size of a pencil eraser (4mm)
  • Evolution of the mole-growth, inflammation, itching

Skin cancer self examination


Visit uncommon places

Check uncommon places like forearms, underarms and palms. The most common places for the occurrence of acral lentiginous melanoma are your palms and bottoms of feet and nail beds.

Check fingers and toes

Detecting skin cancer can be easier if you carefully check the back side of your legs and feet, spaces between your toes and soles of your feet. If you spot new and unusual pigmented bands in the nails, they could be an indication of cancer.

Above the shoulders

Your scalp and back of your neck are the ignored parts of the body. If you don’t wish to leave anything to chance, use a hand mirror and check both the parts. If you can have a friend to assist, using a blow dryer take a closer look at your scalp.

Image source: Getty Images

Read more on Skin Cancer.