Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

How to perform a skin self-examination

Finding suspicious moles or skin cancer early is the key to treating skin cancer successfully. A skin self-examination is usually the first step in detecting skin cancer. The following suggested method of self-examination is from the American Cancer Society:

(You will need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror and a brightly lit room.)

  • Examine your body front and back in mirror, then the right and left sides with your arms raised.
  • Bend your elbows, look carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms and the palms of your hands. 
  • Look at backs of your legs and feet, spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet. 
  • Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. 
  • Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror. 
  • Become familiar with your skin and the pattern of your moles, freckles and other marks. 
  • Be alert to changes in the number, size, shape and color of pigmented areas. 
  • Follow the ABCD guidelines when examining moles or other pigmented areas and consult your physician promptly if you notice any changes. The ABCD guides are: 

                Asymmetry: When half of the mole does not match the other half.

                Border: When the border (edges) of the mole are ragged or irregular.

                Color: When the color of the mole varies throughout.

                Diameter: If the mole's diameter is larger than a pencil's eraser.

  • Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some melanomas may show all of the ABCD characteristics, while other may only show changes in one or two characteristics. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.