A skin self-exam (SSE) is an inspection of your skin that you do by yourself . It is a way for you to notice any changes or abnormal areas of your skin. It is a good way to spot skin cancer early. The earlier skin cancer is found, the better the outcomes. You may also find conditions before they develop into cancer.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that you do an SSE every month. You should also have a clinical cancer-related checkup with your doctor during your regular health exams.
Steps for a Skin Self-Exam
The best time to do a SSE is after a shower or bath. Make sure the room is well lit. If you need to, ask a friend or partner to help you with areas that are hard to see.
- Look at your body-front and back-in the mirror. Lift your arms and check your left and right sides.
- Make sure you check your whole body thoroughly, not missing any areas.
- Become familiar with your body. It is important to know where your moles, birthmarks, and blemishes are. Be familiar with what they usually look like.
- Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, upper arms, and hands. Make sure to check the undersides of these areas as well.
- Look at the back and front of your legs and feet. Do not forget between your toes and the soles of your feet.
- Check your face, the front and back of your neck, and your scalp using a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look. Most people have a lot of trouble looking at their own scalp. If your hair is long, using a hair dryer to blow it out of the way may make seeing the scalp easier.
- Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
Some skin cancers are most often found in areas that get a lot of sunlight. This includes your scalp, neck, arms, and areas on your head and face. Squamous cell cancers are new growths. They look like cuts that have not healed, and they may bleed easily. They may also have a hard, rough, or scaly appearance.
Basal cell cancers can be flat or, raised, pink, red, shiny, or clear. Some larger basal cell cancers may be crusted over or ooze. They may also heal and come back.
Be on the alert for new dark spots as these could be melanomas. Melanomas are a more dangerous form of skin cancer. However, it can be completely cured if found early and completely removed. Most melanomas are brown, blue, black, or multi-colored with brown, red, blue, and black areas. The majority of melanomas begin as flat colored patches, sometimes with irregular borders. They may itch or bleed, but most melanomas cause no symptoms. Rarely, melanomas have no color at all. Some may grow as raised bumps. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, back, and feet where people may not look carefully enough. Look for mole with irregular shapes or borders. These are the most concerning, especially if they are changing.
Your skin gives you wonderful protection from the outside world, but it can also be the site of cancers and other serious problems. Treat your skin as well as it treats you. If you notice any changes or abnormal areas, see your doctor right away.
American Academy of Dermatology.
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 29, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Detect skin cancer American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Lambert M. ACS releases updated guidelines on cancer screening. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(6):576-577.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 6, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Skin cancer prevention and early detection. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003184-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 3, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2018 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 4/9/2018