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Skin self-exam

Definition

Skin self-exam means checking your own skin regularly for any abnormal growths or unusual changes. A skin self-exam helps find any suspicious skin problems early. The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed, the better chance you will have for a cure.

How the test is performed

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend that people perform a skin self-exam once a month.

The easiest time to do the exam may be after you take a bath or shower. Women may wish to perform their skin self-exam when they do their monthly breast self-exam . Men may want to do the skin self-exam when they perform their monthly testicular self-exam .

Ideally, the room should have a full-length mirror and bright lights so that you can see your entire body.

When you are performing the skin self-exam, look for:

  • New skin markings (moles, blemishes, changes in color, bumps)
  • Moles that have changed in size, texture, color, or shape
  • Moles or sores that continue to bleed or won't heal
  • Moles with uneven edges, differences in color, or lack of even sides (symmetry)
  • Any mole or growth that looks very different from other skin growths

Experts recommend that you examine your skin in the following way:

  • Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
  • Check under your arms and on both sides of each arm.
  • Examine your forearms after bending your arms at the elbows, and then look at the palms of your hands and underneath your upper arms.
  • Look at the front and back of both legs.
  • Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
  • Examine your genital area.
  • Look at your face, neck, back of the neck, and scalp. It is best to use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
  • Look at your feet, including the soles and the space between your toes.
  • Have a person you trust help by examining hard-to-see areas.

How to prepare for the test

How the test will feel

Normal Values

What abnormal results mean

What the risks are

Special considerations

Always tell your doctor if:

  • You have any new or unusual sores or spots on your skin
  • A mole or skin sore changes in size, color, or texture
  • You have a sore that does not heal

Encyclopedia content is provided as information only and not intended to replace the advice and instruction from your personal physician.