Even if no abnormalities are detected at your skin cancer check-up, a new skin cancer could start to develop at any time.
You need to know:
- how to check your skin
- what signs to look for
Examine your own skin regularly for signs of new or changing spots. Even if you are at low risk, it doesn't mean no risk — you should still check regularly for warning signs of skin cancer.
How to check yourself for skin cancer
If you prefer to check your own skin for cancer, rather than visit a skin cancer doctor to get your moles checked, you should have a system to make sure you:
- examine your skin systematically, covering all areas
- know what factors suggest that a mole might in fact be a melanoma or other skin cancer
Step-by-step guide to checking your skin
Adapted from information published by the Cancer Council.
- Make sure there is good light in the room
- Have a mirror available to help you see hard-to-reach areas. Even better: use both a hand-held mirror and a wall-mounted mirror
- Undress completely (or undress one part of your body at a time as you work through all areas)
- Check your face and scalp. You may find it easier to check your scalp if you use a comb to part your hair
- Check your neck and shoulders. Don't forget to check your shoulders from the top using a mirror
- Check the front and back of your arms, including your armpits
- Check the front and back of your hands, including between the fingers and under the fingernails
- Check your chest and abdomen; you may need to lift your breasts to see underneath them
- Check around the genitals; you may need to use a mirror to check underneath
- Standing with your back facing a wall-mounted mirror, use a hand-held mirror to examine your back from top to bottom. Alternatively, you could have a family member, partner or friend check for you
- Check the front and back of your legs
- Check your feet including the soles and between your toes
This process becomes easier and takes less time as you become used to your skin.
Video guide to checking your own skin
SCAN your skin: look for spots that are Sore, Changing, Abnormal or New
- The more SCAN features a mole has, the higher the risk of skin cancer. For example if a spot is sore and changing and new, it's higher risk than one which is sore but not changing or new.
- Most people don't continue to develop new moles after they are 40 years old. New moles that appear after this age are more likely to be skin cancers.
- Any spots or moles of concern should be checked by a doctor
- The more you check your skin, the better you will know what is normal for you, and you will be able to detect changes more easily.
What to look for when checking your moles
When you check your moles for skin cancer, you don't need to do it the same way a skin cancer doctor does. The doctor needs to examine each mole to get information about it and decide if the mole might be cancerous. The “ugly duckling” method allows you to examine your skin from a distance and figure out if there is a mole that doesn't resemble other moles.
Be suspicious of any new or changing moles that look different from moles elsewhere on your body.
Spots that break the pattern of the other spots are known as “ugly ducklings”. Identifying them is one of the quickest and easiest ways of locating skin cancers for non-medical people.
Research has shown that the ugly duckling rule for detecting suspicious spots helps non-trained people find skin cancers with higher accuracy than the better-known ABCDEFG rule. (Ilyas 2017)
The ABCDEFG rule for moles
The ABCDEF rule can also help you decide if a spot is normal or suspicious based on information about the mole's characteristics.
If you use the MoleScope app (see below) to take and record photos of your spots, it can help you check for the ABCD signs.
Checking for melanoma and basal cell carcinoma
Melanomas are important to detect as early as possible because they can potentially cause serious health consequences. An undetected melanoma can spread to other parts of the body causing serious illness and death. A melanoma will usually be either a new or changing spot that is asymmetrical. Other features such as an irregular border or multiple colours are often, but not always present. Melanomas are most common in areas that have been badly sunburnt or received intense UV radiation exposure during youth, but less commonly they can occur in areas of the body that have not been exposed to the sun.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It usually tends to develop in areas that get UV radiation repeatedly over many years, such as the face and ears. It can appear as a pink or red lump or scaly area. Sometimes they are detected because they show up as a sore that takes many months to heal.
Monitoring your mole with photography
You can monitor your own moles by taking a series of photographs over time. This can be a useful way of detecting changes in size or shape — sometimes an early sign of skin cancer.
Spot Check Clinic patients have access to the online MoleScope/DermEngine system which records the location and appearance of atypical spots detected during examination. You can log in to MoleScope to view these photos and assess changes. If you wish, you can take your own photos and add them to your MoleScope records.
You will need:
- The MoleScope app for smart phone or iPod. It connects to your record in MoleScope, so you can see photos taken at Spot Check Clinic and add your own.
- A lens attachment for your phone allowing you to take close-up photos. You can purchase the MoleScope Lite attachment from Spot Check Clinic. Alternatively, this lens is available online from the molescope.com website.
- If you wish to ask a doctor’s opinion about a spot you’ve photographed, you can upload it and send it to a doctor using the MoleScope app and a Spot Check doctor will give you information about whether your spot is likely to be a mole or a skin cancer within 2 working days. (Note: A fee applies for this service.)
To learn more, see our Photographing your skin lesions page.
When it's time to visit a clinic
You should have your mole checked by a doctor if it is:
- A new or changing spot with any of the ABCDE characteristics
- A new or changing “ugly duckling” spot that looks different from your other moles
- It's elevated, firm and growing
- It's bleeding, ulcerated, crusted or an open wound that doesn't heal after several months