Skin cancer can be treated with more success if it’s found early. The way to find skin cancer early is with regular skin exams. This means having a healthcare provider check your skin and checking your skin at home regularly.

Skin cancer is a disease that starts in the cells of the skin. It affects more people worldwide than any other form of cancer. Skin cancers requires the clinical care of physician. The most common types of skin cancers are:

Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers
  • Basal cell carcinoma

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Merkel cell carcinoma

  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma

  • Kaposi sarcoma

Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.

Skin Self-Exam

Skin cancer can be treated with more success if it’s found early. The way to find skin cancer early is with regular skin exams. This means having a healthcare provider check your skin. And it also means checking your skin at home regularly.

Getting regular skin exams

Skin exams are important for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider about how often you need a skin exam. You may need one more often if you have an increased risk of skin cancer. You have an increased risk if you have had skin cancer before, have a family history of skin cancer, or have a weak immune system.

Your healthcare provider can check you for signs of skin cancer as part of your regular health exams. Or you can see a dermatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also provides free skin exams at certain times of the year. Healthcare providers who are part of this program don't make a diagnosis, but can tell you if you should see a dermatologist. Visit the AAD website, or call your local health department to find a provider who will be offering free skin exams.


Checking your skin at home

Skin self-exams are very important if you’re at risk for skin cancer. Get to know the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin. Any new moles or changes in existing moles should be checked by your healthcare provider right away.

The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a shower or bath. It’s important to look for changes when you do the self-exam. Do the exam the same way each time. This is so you don’t miss any part of your body. If needed, ask someone for help when checking your skin. This can help with hard-to-see areas like your back and scalp.

  1. Check your skin in a room with a lot of light. Use both a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror, so that you can see your whole body.

  2. Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror.

  3. Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides. Women should look under their breasts.

  4. Examine the back and front of your legs. Also look between your buttocks and at your genital area.

  5. Check the fronts and backs of your hands and forearms carefully. This includes between the fingers and under the fingernails.

  6. Sit down and closely examine your feet. This includes the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also examine the nail bed of each toe.

  7. Look at your face, neck, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or blow-dryer to move your hair as you look, so you can see your scalp more clearly.


What to look for

First, check if any moles fit the ABCDE rules. These rules can help you tell if a mole should be checked by your healthcare provider. The ABCDE rules are:

  • Asymmetry. One half of the mole doesn't match the other half.

  • Border irregularity. The edges of the mole are ragged or irregular.

  • Color. The mole has different colors in it. It may be tan, brown, black, red, or other colors. Or it may have areas that seem to have lost color.

  • Diameter. The mole is bigger than 6 millimeters across, about the size of a pencil eraser. But some melanomas can be smaller.

  • Evolving. A mole changes in size, shape, or color.

Other signs and symptoms that may be skin cancer include:

  • A mole or skin mark that itches, or is tender or painful

  • A mole or skin mark that oozes, bleeds, or becomes crusty

  • A mole or skin mark that looks different from your other moles or skin marks

  • A sore that doesn't heal

  • A mole or sore that becomes red or swells at its edges or beyond


When to call your healthcare provider

Watch for any changes in any moles or skin marks on your body. And pay attention to new moles or skin marks that appear. If any of them fit the ABCDE’s or other signs of skin cancer, see your healthcare provider right away.


Melanoma: Symptoms

What are the symptoms of melanoma?

Normal mole
Normal mole

The first symptom of melanoma is often a change in a mole, or the appearance of a new mole. These ABCDE rule can help you tell a normal mole from one that might be melanoma. The ABCDE rule is:

  • Asymmetry. One half of the mole does not match the other half.

  • Border irregularity. The edges of the mole are ragged or irregular.

  • Color. The mole has different colors in it. It may be tan, brown, black, red, or other colors. Or it may have areas that appear to have lost color.

  • Diameter. The mole is bigger than 6 millimeters across, about the size of a pencil eraser. But some melanomas can be smaller.

  • Evolving. A mole changes in size, shape, or color.

Melanoma

Sign

Characteristic

Skin cancer showing asymmetry.

Asymmetry

When half of the mole does not match the other half

Skin cancer showing irregular border.

Border

When the border (edges) of the mole are ragged or irregular

Skin cancer showing more than one color.

Color

When the color of the mole varies throughout

Skin cancer with dotted-line circle and arrow showing diameter.

Diameter

If the mole's diameter is larger than a pencil's eraser

Skin lesions showing evolution of skin cancer.

Evolving

Changes in the way the mole looks over time

Other signs and symptoms that may be melanoma include:

  • A mole that itches or is sore.

  • A mole that oozes, bleeds, or becomes crusty.

  • A mole that looks different from your other moles.

  • A sore that doesn't heal.

  • A mole or sore becomes red or swells at its edges or beyond.


Get to know your moles

Become familiar with the way your moles look so you will know if they’re changing. Take note of any new moles that appear on your skin.


When to see your healthcare provider 

Most moles are not melanomas. But it is important to see your healthcare provider if you have moles or other spots on your skin with the features above. Also see your provider if you are worried about a spot on your skin for some other reason. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.


Skin Cancer: Prevention

Older woman wearing wide-brimmed hat and long sleeve shirt while watering in the yard

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most important preventable risk factor for skin cancer. UV rays come from the sun and from sunlamps and tanning beds. There are 2 types of UV rays that can reach and damage your skin: UVA and UVB.

Here’s how you can help reduce your risk of skin cancer:

  • Minimize your exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest.

  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen before you go outside. Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Broad-spectrum means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply it to all areas of your body that will be exposed to the sun.

  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply after swimming or sweating.

  • Wear clothing that covers your body and shades your face. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. Hats should provide shade for the face, ears, and back of the neck.

  • Wear sunglasses with a UV coating (the label should say 100% UVA/UVB protection). This will reduce the amount of UV rays that reach the eye, and protect your eyelids and the eye itself.

  • Don’t use sunlamps or tanning beds.

Protecting children from the sun

Skin damage from UV rays early in life can lead to skin cancer later in life. Keep children from too much sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen often to children age 6 months and older.

Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight. Dress your baby in hats and lightweight clothing that covers most of the skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) approves using sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months if clothing and shade don’t provide enough cover. Apply a small amount of sunscreen. Use it only on your baby’s exposed areas such as the face and back of the hands.


Take care around sand and snow

Sand and water reflect UV rays, even under a beach umbrella. If you’re on the beach, cover up and use sunscreen. Snow is also good at reflecting UV rays. Cover up and wear sunscreen while outside in snowy areas.