Skin Self Examination - When, How and What to look For


A regular self skin examination helps in detecting probable skin problems early in its onset. In case of skin cancers, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better chance it stands for getting cured.

"The best and most efficient pharmacy is within your own system.” - Robert C. Peale

Skin cancer are less common among Blacks and Asians and more common among the white population. In United states, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and the two most common types of skin cancer are called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These of diagnosed early are highly curable. Another skin cancer called melanoma is the third type of cancer and the most dangerous.

When to perform the skin self-exam?

If you are white or from an anglo-saxon race you should perform skin self examination regularly. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommend that people should perform a “skin self-exam” at least once a month.

The most convenient time to do the exam can be just after the bath, before getting dressed. Women can perform their skin self-exam while doing their monthly breast self-exam. For men, while performing their monthly testicular self-exam, they can have a look at themselves to figure.

Ideally, the room should be well lit and have a full-length mirror so that the front and the back of the entire body can be seen properly. If necessary you can ask regular living in your partner to also do this observation.

While performing the exam, notice:-

  • New skin markings (bumps, moles, colorations, blemishes)
  • Moles that have changed recently in size, color, texture, or shape
  • Lesions or moles that continue to bleed or does not heal
  • Moles with any uneven edges, lack of symmetry, or differences in color
  • Translucent growth with rolled edges
  • Brown/black streaks underneath a nail
  • Cluster of shiny pink or red lesions
  • Waxy scar
  • Flat or slightly depressed lesion that feels hard to touch
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, crust, hurt, scab, erode, or bleed

Look for ABCDE:-

Consult a dermatologist immediately if any of the moles or pigmented spots exhibit:-

A: Asymmetry - One half is unlike the other half

B: Border - An irregular and poorly defined border

C: Color - Varies from one part of the lesion to other

D: Diameter - If it has a diameter of 6mm or more

E: Evolving - A mole or lesion which looks different from the rest or is changing in size, color, or shape.

Examine your skin in the following way:-

  • Look closely at the entire body (front and back) in the mirror.
  • Check under arms and both sides of each arm.
  • Examine the forearms after bending your arms at the elbows. Then look at the palms of hands and underneath upper arms.
  • Look at the front and back of both legs.
  • Look at buttocks and between the buttocks.
  • Examine genital area.
  • Look at face, neck, and scalp.
  • Look at soles and the space between toes.
  • It is best to use a hand mirror as well to look at the back of neck and other hidden areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who all should do skin self examination?

Everyone! Children should be taught at an early age how to do it. All adults, irrespective of sex, age, and race should make it a habit, rather than taking it as a cumbersome medical procedure. This is more important in people from the white or from an anglo-saxon race. The incidence of melanoma and skin cancers are higher among people who have less melanin content in the skin.

2. How often should skin self screening exam be performed?

Ideally, for most of the people, an interval of three months is sufficient to repeat it. For photographic screening and a thorough examination by a dermatologist, an annual visit is recommended.

3. How long does it take to perform the test?

After the first few times, it should not take longer than 5 to 10 minutes.

4. What if one finds a suspicious lesion?

On noticing a suspicious lesion, don’t panic! See a dermatologist, as soon as possible.

5. Do I need to see a doc, even if the lesion is absolutely painless?

“Do Not Ignore” any suspicious looking spot simply because it does not hurt at that point of time. Skin cancers may appear painless initially, but are dangerous all the while. See a doctor right away. Along with yearly skin examinations by a doctor or dermatologist, self skin examinations are the best way to ensure that you won''t become a statistic in the battle against skin cancer.

Latest Publications and Research on Skin Self Examination - When, How and What to look For

Recommended Reading