How To Perform a Self-Exam For Skin Cancer

Got five minutes? That's all it takes to check yourself for skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States.

That’s all it takes to check yourself for skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States. Though melanoma (the deadliest form of this disease) has been increasing by six percent annually, only 18 percent of women have ever had an annual skin check from a doctor, according to CDC data. Another survey from L’Oréal Paris found that 88 percent of women have never discussed melanoma with their docs and a slim 30 percent do a monthly skin self-exam, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

If you’re guilty of skimping on monthly self-exams, no worries—they’re easy! Here’s the best way to do an expert-approved check.

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Find a bright room

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The best place to do your monthly check is in a bright room. “My favorite location is a store dressing room because the lighting is strong and you can use the three-way mirror to see your back and behind,” says Franks. But it’s perfectly fine if you want to stick to a full-length mirror at home.

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Remember 'ABCDE'

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Once you’ve scoped out a spot, start by carefully examining your body front and back in the mirror, then check each side with your arms raised above you. Use the acronym ABCDE to help you pick out suspicious moles, says Franks. Look for:

Asymmetry-mole’s halves don’t match
Borders are uneven
Color isn’t uniform
Diameter is larger than size of a pencil eraser (4mm)
Evolution of the mole-growth, inflammation, itching

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Check unlikely places

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Bend elbows and carefully look at forearms, underarms, and palms. Your palms as well as bottoms of feet and nail beds are the places where you’re more likely to get acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) —a type of melanoma that hits women of color more than any other group.

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Fingers and toes

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Check the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet. “Don’t forget to examine your fingernails and toenails too,” Franks stresses. “New and unusual pigmented bands on the nails could be a sign of cancer.” If you spot a vertical line in any shade of brown extending from cuticle to the tip of your fingernail, make sure to check in with your dermatologist.

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Above the shoulders

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Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. “It’s ideal if you can get a friend or partner to help you and using a blow dryer will give you a closer look,” says Franks. Although less than six percent of melanomas pop up on the scalp, they can be deadlier because they’re often found at later stages.

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Use a hand mirror

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Instead of standing in front of a wall mirror, use a hand mirror to take a closer look at your back and butt, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and author of Skin Rules. See anything funky? “Don’t wait to get a mole checked because you never know what it could be,” says Jaliman. “I delayed my appointment for four months and it turned out to be melanoma, scary but curable.” Most derms will be able to get you in ASAP if you spot a suspicious mole or lesion

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