The words “skin cancer” are scary because we often associate all skin cancer with the often-deadly melanoma. But, most skin cancers—even some melanomas—are curable when diagnosed and treated early. But since you likely only see your primary care provider once a year for an annual physical, it is up to you to identify any suspicious skin lesions that may need to be checked sooner by a medical professional.
Self-checks for skin lesions should be done once a month. They are thorough inspections of your entire body, so you need some tools to help you see your back and other hard-to-view areas, including:
Self-checks should be done in a well-lit area, and you may want a second chair, stool or foot rest to prop your feet and/or legs during parts of the lower body examination.
Have a body map ready to mark the location and type of any skin lesion you discover. (Body maps are available from the Skin Cancer Foundation.)
Start your self-check by carefully examining your face, especially your nose, lips and ears, as these are parts of the body that receive a lot of sun exposure and are often most vulnerable to burning.
Use the hand mirror to view the backs of your ears.
You will need to examine your entire scalp by using a hair dryer and comb to move your hair so that you can see the skin beneath. However, because it is difficult to see the top of your head, even with mirrors, we recommend having someone assist you with this part of the self-check.
Once you have documented any suspicious areas, move on to your upper and mid-body.
With the same care and attention, examine every inch of your upper and mid body. Parts that often go unchecked include:
You will need the full-length mirror and hand mirror to check your back. Make sure long hair is tied up so that you can see the nape of your neck, your upper, mid and lower back as well as your sides.
Use the mirror to examine your lower posterior region, including:
Sit down and prop one leg up to examine your upper thighs and lower legs, ankles and feet. Be sure to look between your toes and beneath your toe nails for any discoloration and/or changes in skin texture.
In the event that you discover any suspicious skin lesion, there’s no reason to panic…just schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or dermatologist for another look. Even if your medical provider does not order any diagnostic testing or express concern, keep the body map so that you know what areas to keep your eye on so that you notice any changes.