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How to do a Skin Self-Examination

Learn the Warning Signs for Skin Cancer


Updated July 03, 2014

Woman examining skin
Garry Wade/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It is important to know how to recognize the early warning signs of malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the most deadly of all the skin cancers. It is estimated that 46,000 Americans will develop melanoma every year, and 7,700 Americans will die from melanoma every year.

Self-Examination for Melanoma
Examine your skin frequently to get used to the usual appearance of your moles. This makes it easier to know if any of your moles are changing. The following is a system recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology to examine your skin:

  1. Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides with arms raised.
  2. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, upper underarms, underarms, and palms.
  3. Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
  4. Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look.
  5. Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

The ABCD's of Melanoma
Follow the ABCD's to identify any abnormal moles.

  • Asymmetry - One half of the mole does not match the other half in size, shape, color, or thickness
  • Border - The edges are ragged, scalloped, blurred, or poorly defined
  • Color - The color of the mole is not the same throughout or it has shades of tan, brown, black, red, white, or blue
  • Diameter - Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm in diameter, but they can be smaller
  • Pictures of the ABCD's of Melanoma

If you notice any of these changes, you should see your health-care provider or a dermatologist.


Barnhill, Raymond and Keith Llewellyn. "Benign Melanocytic Neoplasms". Dermatology. Ed. Jean L Bolognia, MD, et al. London: Mosby, 2003. 1768-70.

Habif, Thomas. "Nevi and Malignant Melanoma". Clinical Dermatology, 3rd ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1996. 688-692.

"How to Perform a Self-Examination." American Academy of Dermatology. 2006. American Academy of Dermatology. 4 May 2007.

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