A skin self-exam (SSE) is an examination of your skin that you do for yourself . It is a way for you to notice any changes or abnormalities in your skin.
It is a good way to spot skin cancer early.
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 periodic health exams.
The best time to do a SSE is after a shower or bath. Make sure the room is brightly 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 and 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, such as squamous or basal cell, are most commonly 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 that look like cuts that have not healed, and they may bleed easily. They may have a hard, rough, or scaly appearance.
Basal cells can be flat or, raised, pink, red, shiny, or translucent. Some larger carcinomas may be crusted over or ooze. They may also heal and come back.
Be particularly alert for new dark spots as these could be melanomas.
are a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer that can be completely cured if found early and completely removed. Most melanomas are brown, blue, black, or multi-colored with browns, reds, blues, and blacks. 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 may lack color entirely. 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 asymmetric moles, moles with irregular borders, multicolored moles, and large moles. These are the most concerning, especially if they are evolving or changing.
Your skin offers 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 abnormalities, see your doctor right away.
Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 24, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2014.
How do I check my skin? American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
http://www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/understanding-skin-cancer/how-do-i-check-my-skin. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Skin cancer prevention and early detection. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
Accessed March 25, 2014.
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 16, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 21, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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