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Skin - Physician and Self-Exams

A mole or pigmented skin lesion is the most common sign of any type of skin cancer. Doctors recommend regular skin exams to find these changes early.

Yearly Physician Exams

During their annual primary health care examinations, survivors should request a full-body skin examination. A national study of physicians showed they are more inclined to screen when requested to do so by their patients.

The American Academy of Dermatology sponsors free SPOTme® skin cancer screenings.

Self-exams

Survivors should perform skin self-exams each month to look for skin changes.

Signs and Symptoms of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Common signs and symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer:

A lump that is small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy

 
This picture shows a skin cancer lesion that is small, smooth, shiny, and pale.
 

A lump that is firm and red

This picture shows a skin cancer lesion that is firm and red.

A sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or a scab

 
This picture shows a skin cancer lesion that has a scab.
 

A flat, red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly and may become itchy or tender

This picture shows a skin cancer lesion that is flat, dry and scaly.

A red or brown patch that is rough or scaly

 
This picture shows a skin cancer lesion that is red and brown, very rough, and scaly.
 

Images sourced from the website of the National Cancer Institute (https://www.cancer.gov).

Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma

Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. Using the ABCDE method is recommended.

Use the ABCDE Method

  • Asymmetry – ½ of the spot is unlike the other half.
  • Border – The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
  • Color – The spot has varying colors from one area to the next such as shades of tan and brown; sometimes white, red, or blue.
  • Diameter – Melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed. They can be smaller.
  • Evolution – The mole or spot looks different from the rest or is changing is size, shape, or color.
 
This picture shows a melanoma lesion without a clearly defined border.
This picture shows a melanoma lesion with varying colors.
 

For information on how to conduct a self-examination, visit the Detect Skin Cancer section of the American Academy of Dermatology website.

Keep a record of body moles

The American Academy of Dermatology has a free body mole map that people can use to keep track of moles. A record helps detect spots that are growing, bleeding, itching, or changing in any way.


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Reviewed: June 2018