December 21, 2014

View as List How to Perform a Skin Exam

  • How to Perform a Skin Exam

    Skin cancer is very common, and some types can be deadly. But discovered early, almost all skin cancers can be treated and cured. Here’s what you need to know. 

  • 1

    Know your risks

    A regular skin check by your family doctor or a dermatologist is particularly important if you are at high risk of skin cancer—for instance, if you have had a lot of sunburns and sun exposure over the years (including at tanning salons), have a lot of moles, have had actinic keratoses or a family history of skin cancer. Having a dark complexion does not protect you from skin cancer.

  • 2

    Examine your skin regularly

    After bathing or showering is a convenient time. Examine your body, front and back, in bright light using a hand mirror and full-length mirror. Inspect your scalp, behind your ears and your genitals. Women should check under their breasts. Don’t forget your legs, feet and toes. It may help to get someone to take photos of your back periodically, so you can compare moles and check for changes.

  • 3

    What to look for

    A mole that’s changing shape, color or size, especially one with an irregular border; an “ugly duckling” mole that looks different from the others; any kind of lesion, especially a rough or scaly patch; a sore spot that bleeds; or anything that wasn’t there before. If you see anything suspicious, get medical advice.

  • 4

    Actinic keratosis

    Doctor holding model of skin

    These precancerous skin lesions result from long-term sun exposure. They can be red or pink and are usually rough and scaly. These should be removed to keep them from causing problems. A dermatologist can remove them in the office or prescribe a topical medication to treat them at home. If you get these lesions, take them as a reminder to stay out of the sun.

  • 5

    Basal cell carcinoma

    Basal cell carcinoma

    Most common and least dangerous skin cancer. May show up as a red bump that turns into a sore and scabs over. Easily removed, as with actinic keratoses. Develops slowly.

  • 6

    Squamous cell carcinoma

    Squamous cell carcinoma

    Almost as common as basal cell carcinoma, but more dangerous because it can spread. Actinic keratoses can be the forerunner. If you have any skin lesion that does not heal right away, see a doctor.

  • 7

    Melanoma

    melanoma skin cancer

    More dangerous than basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, and less common—but its incidence is rising. Melanoma may start from an existing mole or show up as a new, dark skin patch. It may develop from blistering sunburns early in life, but may also appear on parts of the body seldom or never exposed to the sun, such as buttocks, armpits or soles of feet. Treatable and curable if diagnosed early.