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How To Do A Skin Cancer Self Examination

Southeast Radiation Oncology Center - Monday, October 30, 2017

Step-By-Step Guide To Identifying Signs Of Skin Cancer

There is a one in five chance of developing skin cancer in your lifetime, making skin cancer the most common type of cancer and one of the most dangerous. In the U.S. there are more newly diagnosed cases of skin cancer than cases of prostate, lung, colon, and breast cancer combined. The good news is that even the most deadly type of skin cancer, Melanoma, may be curable if caught early. That is why awareness and prevention is one of the most important tools in the battle against skin cancer. The early signs are relatively simple to identify with a self-exam, as long as you know what you’re looking for and how to conduct a thorough exam.

We’ve put together this step-by-step guide on how to give yourself a skin cancer self-exam. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Skin Cancer Self Exam - Step By Step

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What You Need For The Exam

Before you begin the exam, there are a few things that you’re going to need in order to check your body thoroughly. These things will help you check areas that you won’t be able to see normally, such as your back.

  • Full Length Mirror
  • Hand Mirror
  • A Chair Or Stool
  • Good Lighting
  • A Hairbrush Or Comb
  • A Notepad / Camera

The notepad or camera can be helpful for those who want to write down or take pictures of any possible warning signs. This can be helpful information that can be shared with the doctor at your next appointment if you have any questions or concerns about it. You can also ask a friend, family member, or partner for help to make the process of checking hard to reach areas much easier.

What To Look For: Early Signs Of Skin Cancer

To conduct a thorough and effective self exam, you need to be able to identify the signs of skin cancer. You’ll be looking for:

  • Skin Growth That Has Increased In Size - The skin growth can be tan, black, brown, multicolored, or translucent in coloration. If you notice that it has grown, it could be an early sign of skin cancer. In particular, marks or moles larger in size than a pencil eraser should be evaluated by a physician.
  • A Mole, Birthmark, Or Brown Spot That Has Changed In Texture, Size, Or Color

  • A Sore That Is Often Painful, Itchy, Bleeding - If these symptoms are persistent or an open sore does not heal over an extended period of time, it could be a sign of skin cancer.

If you notice any of these early warning signs during your self examination, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away for a thorough exam to screen for skin cancer.

Start By Examining Your Head

For the beginning of the self-exam, you will start at your head and then work the way down the rest of your body. To properly examine your head, position yourself close to the mirror and closely scan every inch of your face slowly and thoroughly. Make sure you spend time checking your lips, nose, and ears, since they are areas that can easily be overlooked. Take a brush or comb to run through your hair as you look closely at your scalp. Lean your head back and check under your chin and around your neck.

Checking Your Torso & Arms

Once you’ve finished looking at your head and neck, transition down to your chest and midsections. For women that are performing a self exam, makes sure to examine the area under the breasts as well. After finishing the scan of your torso, move back up to your shoulders and follow them down all the way to your fingertips. Check in between the fingers, under the fingernails, and the underarms.

Checking Your Lower Body

Grab your chair or stool and position it so you can sit close to the mirror. Start where you left off at the bottom of your torso and continue down each leg to your toes. Similarly to your fingers, check under the toenails and between the toes. Hold your foot up to the mirror or onto your leg so you can also examine the bottom of your feet. Finally, check your genitals and the surrounding areas for any signs.

Examining Your Back

If you do have a friend or partner to help you out, now is the time for them to step in, but if you don’t, a full length mirror will do just fine. Just as you did with your front side, scan your body from top to bottom, making sure that slowly scan every inch for any signs or abnormalities. Remember to use a brush or comb to move your hair aside to check the back of your scalp and neck.

Contact Southeast Radiation Oncology Center For More Information

If you have any questions about skin cancer self exams, what symptoms and warning signs to look for, or about skin cancer treatment and screenings, just contact us at Southeast Radiation Oncology Center in Juneau, AK. You can also learn more about it by visiting our Skin Cancer condition page. Connect with a member of our knowledgeable staff today, and they will be happy to get you the information that you’re looking for.


At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we know that cancer patients are best served by being treated in close proximity to a support network of family and friends. We offer patients in Southeast Alaska the ability to receive state-of-the-art radiation therapy without the burden of traveling great distances away from home.The information presented on this website is provided to allow our patients to gain more knowledge about our center, our staff, and our services.