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How to perform a skin self-exam

Wellness | July 14, 2021
Skin self-exam tips.
Mark your calendar to perform this exam monthly.

Skin cancer, including melanoma, is highly curable if spotted early.  

A careful skin self-exam can help you identify suspicious growths that may be cancerous or that may develop into skin cancer (precancers). According to SkinCancer.org, it’s recommended to examine your skin head-to-toe each month.  

In addition to knowing the ABCDEs of early skin cancer detection, you’ll want to know how to perform a self-exam. A handheld and standing mirror will be helpful.  

From top to bottom 

Top of your body: 

  • Examine your nose, lips, mouth and ears – front and back.  
  • Thoroughly inspect your scalp. You may want to get a friend or family member to help, but it’s also possible to use a comb or blow-dryer and mirror to shift your hair placement.  

Middle of your body: 

  • Check your hands – front and back, in between fingers and under the fingernails.  
  • Scan your arms. Standing in front of a full-length mirror, start at the elbows and scan all sides of your arms and underarms. 
  • Inspect your midsection. Focus on the neck, chest and torso. Don’t forget to inspect the underside of your breasts. 
  • Scan your upper back with the full-length mirror and handheld mirror. View the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of your arms that weren’t viewable earlier. 
  • Review your lower back. Using both mirrors, check your lower back, buttocks and the back of both legs. 

Bottom of body: 

  • Sitting down – check the front and sides of each leg. Finish with ankles and feet, don’t forget the bottom of your feet, toes and nails. 

Performing skin self-exams should be included in your monthly health routine. 

"You'll want to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist annually or if you notice something of concern," says Sean McElligott, MD, a PeaceHealth dermatologist in Eugene, Oregon. 

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