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Skin cancer

One key way to spot skin cancer early, when it is more treatable, is to have regular skin exams that check for new or unusual growths, or changes in the size, shape or color of an existing spot. Get checked by a doctor once a year and examine yourself once a month. Report suspicious or evolving spots to your primary care physician or a dermatologist.

Here are some basic instructions for conducting a monthly skin cancer self-screening:

What you'll need: A full length or large mirror, a hand-held mirror, a chair or stool, a blow dryer (optional) and a partner or spouse to help, if possible

When to perform the checks: Once a month

Where to go: In a private room, such as a bathroom or bedroom, with plenty of light

Starting with the top of your head, look for new spots, irregular or raised spots or spots that have changed or grown since your last examination. Use a blow dryer to clear away hair for a better look at the scalp.

Move down the face, examining the forehead, nose and checks. Feel around your lips for uneven spots. Using the hand-held mirror, look behind your ears or the back of the neck and shoulders. Ask your partner or spouse to help, if necessary, and have them examine your back and the backs of your legs.

Check down your arms and hands. Don't forget to look at your fingernails and between your fingers. Lift the arms and check the armpits and each side of the torso. Women should lift their breasts and examine the skin beneath them.

Sit on the stool and check the legs, feet, soles of the feet and between the toes.

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides a body map to help you keep a record of suspicious spots, and advises that you bring it when you see the doctor for your annual physical.

Tips that may help prevent skin cancer

If you want to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, experts say the first step is to decrease your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light by avoiding direct sunlight and tanning beds. If you must be outside, try to avoid the midday sun, stay in the shade when possible and wear sunscreen, long sleeves and a wide hat for added protection. For your convenience, you may want to keep this list of tips handy:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun is typically strongest. Seek shade if you are outside. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunglasses and long sleeves and pants.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher if you plan to be outside longer than 20 minutes. The sunscreen should be water resistant and protect against UVA and UVB rays. Reapply regularly, especially after sweating or getting out of the water.
  • Check other products for SPF numbers, too, not just your sunscreen. The labels on some makeup, clothing (especially hats) and beach accessories, such as tents and umbrellas, include SPF numbers as part of their produce information.
  • Wear sunglasses that protect the eyes from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Don't burn! Sunburns, especially on children, have been linked to an increased risk of developing melanoma later in life.
  • Avoid tanning booths and beds that use concentrated UV light. The risks are so great that several states prohibit and some countries limit and prohibit the use of tanning beds, especially for teens.
  • Examine your skin for suspicious spots every month and see a dermatologist for skin checks once a year.