How Do You Perform a Skin Exam?

Last Modified: May 20, 2011

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I know regular skin exams are important, but are there any "instructions" on how to do one?

Answer

Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Nurse Educator, responds:

When checking your skin, you want to examine your entire body, as skin cancer can occur anywhere- even in areas not exposed to sun. It can be helpful to do the exam with a partner or use a mirror or two to see out of sight areas.

  • Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides with arms raised. Women should look under their breasts.
  • Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms, and palms.
  • Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and on the soles. If you cannot see all parts of your feet, use a handheld mirror.
  • Examine the backs of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part your hair to examine the entire scalp.
  • Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

What are you looking for?

Become familiar with your own skin- know your birthmarks, blemishes and moles so you can spot any changes. Look for any changes in size, color, texture or shape and report them to your healthcare provider.

Signs of skin cancer include:

  • Mole that is different from the rest, itches, bleeds, or is changing in any way – even if the mole is smaller than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • Sore that never fully heals
  • Translucent growth with rolled edges
  • Brown or black streak underneath a nail
  • Cluster of slow-growing, shiny pink or red lesions
  • Waxy-feeling scar
  • Flat or slightly depressed lesion that feels hard to the touch

You can download a free "Body Mole Map" to keep track of your moles and learn more about sun safety.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series: Sun Safety and Skin Cancer Prevention Webchat. View the entire transcript on Sun Safety.