How to do skin self-exams
The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a bath or shower. To do a skin exam, look at your body in a full-length mirror. Make sure your room is well-lit. You can also enlist the help of a spouse, partner, or close friend or family member to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like your back or scalp. Look at your underarms, forearms and palms. Look at your legs, between toes and at the soles of your feet. Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp, as well as to check your back and buttocks.
If you are examining yourself for the first time, spend time carefully going over the entire surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes next time. If you look at your skin on a regular basis, you’ll know what’s normal and what’s not.
What should you look for?
Not all skin cancers look the same. In fact, some skin cancers may show up in a range of shapes and sizes. Certain skin cancers might even look like other skin conditions. Many skin cancers are more common on parts of the body that tend to get more sun, such as the face, head, neck, and arms. But skin cancers can occur anywhere on the body.
Some of the more common ways in which skin cancers can appear include:
- A new, expanding, or changing growth, spot, or bump on the skin
- A sore that bleeds and/or doesn’t heal after several weeks
- A rough or scaly red patch, which might crust or bleed
- A wart-like growth
- A mole (or another spot on the skin) that’s new or changing in size, shape, or color
- A mole with an odd shape, irregular borders, or areas of different colors
When to see a doctor
If you notice a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches or bleeds, you should make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist that specializes in skin diseases and can use special tools to look at the area more closely.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with roughly 9,500 people diagnosed every day.
If the doctor suspects you might have skin cancer, he or she will do exams and tests to find out. If you can’t see the doctor right away, it is a good idea to take good close-up photos of the area. This will allow your doctor to see if the area is changing when you do get an appointment.
Usually, the doctor’s first step is to ask about your symptoms, such as when the mark first appeared, if it has changed in appearance, and if it’s painful, itchy, or bleeding. You might also be asked about past exposures to causes of skin cancer (including sunburns and tanning practices) and if you or anyone in your family has had skin cancer. Next, the doctor will examine your skin and take note of the size, shape, color, and texture of the area in question, and if it is bleeding, oozing, or crusting. They may also check the rest of your body for moles and other spots that could be related to skin cancer.
Anything that is deemed suspicious by your doctor will require a closer look. Your doctor may request a sample of skin from that area be removed and looked at under a microscope. This is called a skin biopsy. There are many ways to do a skin biopsy. The doctor will choose one based on the suspected type of skin cancer, where it is on your body, the size of the affected area, and other factors.