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Skin cancer screening is something that should be done regularly. Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most likely to metastasize, or spread. However, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the warning signs of nonmelanoma skin cancers because they also can become serious or even spread to other parts of the body, and any cancer is easier to treat in its earlier stages.

How to perform a monthly skin exam

Performing a monthly self-examination of your skin is the best way to become familiar with your body and know what is and isn’t normal for you. A good time to do this is after a bath or shower. You’ll need both a full-length and handheld mirror as well as two chairs to conduct your monthly full-body skin check. You’ll also need a comb or blow-dryer to check your scalp. 

Here are some step-by-step instructions for your self-exam:

  1. Examine the front and back of your body in a full-length mirror. Then raise your arms and look at the right and left sides. Lift the breasts to view the under-area.
  2. Using both mirrors, take a close look at your face, especially your nose, lips and mouth. Make sure to check both the front and back of each ear.
  3. Continue checking your head and neck. Use your hand mirror to check your scalp and the back of your neck. Make sure to use a comb or blow-dryer to part your hair in sections and take a close look.
  4. Look carefully at each arm, including with your elbows bent, and examine your forearms, underarms, wrists, hands and palms. Also check your fingernails (without polish) and the skin between your fingers.
  5. Scrutinize the front of your legs in the full-length mirror, and use your handheld mirror to look at your calves and the back of your thighs.
  6. Seated in a chair, lift your feet one at a time to check for skin changes. Make sure to look between your toes and at your toenails (without polish) and soles of your feet.
  7. Remain seated and lift each leg in turn onto the second chair. Use the hand mirror to inspect your genital area.
  8. Check your shoulders, back and buttocks by using your hand mirror to reflect your image from the full-length mirror.

What to look for during your skin exam

As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to look for any new or changing skin blemishes or any unusual developments in your skin. These may include:

  • Moles, brown spots or birthmarks that change in size, thickness, color or texture
  • Sores that itch, bleed, become crusty and don’t heal within three weeks
  • A growth that gets bigger and looks pearly, tan, brown, black or multicolored
  • Rough, scaly red patches that bleed or become crusty
  • A mole or bump that has an odd shape or irregular borders
Headshot of Dr. Sondak
Early detection is the best way to maximize your chance of cure from any form of skin cancer.
Dr. Vernon Sondak
Chair, Cutaneous Oncology Program

Record your skin cancer screening results

It’s a good idea to draw or download a body map diagram and use it to note the location of any spots you discover on your skin so you can track their development. If you see any changes in your skin over time, your body map notations will be helpful when you consult with a physician. You should also take close-up pictures of any changing moles or skin spots to share with your physician or dermatologist.

Get annual skin cancer checks from a dermatologist

In addition to doing monthly self-examinations, it’s important to see a dermatologist or skin cancer specialist annually for a professional skin cancer screening. Dermatologists are trained to spot signs of cancerous skin cells that might go unrecognized during your monthly self-exam, and a dermatologist will also be able to view parts of your body that are easily missed using mirrors.

Some dermatologists perform full-body skin cancer exams for all patients, while others examine private parts of the body only if the patient requests it or has a specific concern about skin changes in those areas. If you have an elevated risk for skin cancer, it’s a good idea to request a full-body exam at least once a year.

Preparing for your dermatologist visit

To get the most benefit from your professional skin cancer screening, make sure to bring any photos of changing moles or other skin spots you’re concerned about. Remove nail polish from your fingers and toes, wear your hair loosely without ties or clips, and make sure you don’t wear facial makeup during the exam.

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Mole Patrol

The best way to combat skin cancer is to recognize and treat it in its early stages. That’s why Moffitt Cancer Center established the Mole Patrol® in 1996. This mobile program provides screening, educational materials and sunscreen samples to the public, free of charge. The Mole Patrol consists of an expert team of physicians and mid-level practitioners specializing in dermatology and/or skin cancer, as well as registered nurses and support staff. This mobile skin cancer screening program travels to venues all around Florida, including the Pier 60 Pavilion on Clearwater Beach, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. If the Mole Patrol team finds a suspicious skin lesion, the individual receives follow-up recommendations that he or she is then free to take to a primary care physician, one of the program’s participating affiliate institutions or Moffitt

To learn more about skin cancer screening, contact Moffitt today by calling 1-888-663-3488 or filling out a new patient registration form online. No referral is needed to visit Moffitt Cancer Center.


Skin Cancer Foundation – Self-Exams Save Lives

American Cancer Society – How to Do a Skin Self-Exam