A skin self-exam (SSE) is an examination of your skin that you do for yourself (or with a friend or partner). 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.
Steps for a Skin Self-Exam
The best time to do a SSE is after a shower or bath. Make sure the room is brightly lit.
- 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. 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. Sharing this task with a friend or partner makes things easier. 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.
If you notice any changes or abnormalities, see your doctor right away. Be particularly alert for new dark spots as these could be melanomas. 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, usually (but not always) 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 see something new or suspicious, let your doctor take a look at it.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 06/2012 -
- Update Date: 06/13/2012 -