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How to check your skin for cancer

Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. Finding them early can also prevent disfigurement and in more serious cases can be lifesaving.

Skcin recommend you check your skin thoroughly once a month, although if you have previously suffered with skin cancer you may well be required to check more frequently.

Should you notice anything suspicious, or feel worried or concerned about any potential abnormality, you should consult your GP or dermatologist as soon as possible.

If you are checking for the first time:

If you are checking your skin for the first time it is important to do a bit of swatting up on the various types of skin cancers and what to look out for - looking for something new to appear is all well and
good, providing you haven't missed something that is already there.
See Types of skin cancer (opens in a new tab) or how to spot skin cancer (opens in a new tab) for information on the various types of skin cancers and pre-cancerous skin lesions. If you are worried about moles and want to learn more about normal moles versus abnormal (atypical) moles click here > (opens in a new tab)

The best way to begin regularly checking your skin is to learn where your moles, birthmarks, and other marks are and their usual look and feel so that you can detect any changes over time. Generally speaking if you notice any type of mole, lump, persistent sore or patch that is changing shape, growing, won't heal, bleeding, crusting, itching or flaking - get it checked out!

Top tips for a thorough self examination

An ideal time to check your skin is after a bath or shower

  • Make sure you check your skin in a room with plenty of light
  • Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror
  • Check yourself thoroughly from head to toe:
  • Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp.
  • When checking your scalp use a comb or a blow dryer to move your hair so that you can see better, or ask a relative or friend to check through your hair as it can be hard to check by yourself.
  • Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Again asking someone to help you check hard to see places like your back can be helpful.
  • Make sure you thoroughly check your entire body.
  • Remember to raise your arms and check your left and right sides.

Remember to check the following areas where signs and symptoms can go unnoticed:

  • Fingernails, and the palms of your hands.
  • The genital area, between your buttocks and under breasts.
  • Your feet, including your toenails, your soles, and the spaces between your toes.

Basic warning signs to detect:

  • A growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multi-coloured
  • A mole (that looks different from your other moles)
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
    • Varies in colour
    • Increases in size or thickness
    • Changes in texture
    • Is irregular in outline
    • Is bigger than 6mm or 1/4", the size of a pencil eraser
    • Appears after age 21
    • A new red or darker colour flaky patch that may be a little raised
    • A new flesh-coloured firm bump
    • An open sore that doesn't heal
    • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed

For images and further guidance on what to look out for see how to spot skin cancer

Children and skin checking

It is important to check your children's skin for signs of change too, naturally moles will develop up until their teens at which point they should learn how to self examine their skin and be aware of what to look out for. Skin cancer is far less common in children, but melanoma can strike at a young age and can be fatal, so it is particularly important to keep an eye on your children's moles, especially if they appear to have one or more atypical mole. Click here for further information on normal moles versus atypical moles (opens in a new tab).

Keeping a record of your examinations

By checking your skin regularly, you'll learn what is normal for you. However it can be very helpful to record your findings and the dates of your skin exams as it is hard to remember so much detail. Recording your findings on a body map for example could mean the difference between spotting something early or something going unnoticed, so a worth while exercise.
You can download a body map (opens in a new tab) here to record your findings and keep a concise record of your self examinations.