Skin self-exams

Do you know the ABCDEs of a skin cancer self-exam? It may help save your life.

One of your moles is changing. Or a new spot appears on your back. Would you even notice? You might not — unless you keep an eye on your skin.

Why it matters so much

Of the 2 million or so skin cancers that occur every year, the vast majority are treatable varieties, mostly squamous or basal cell carcinomas.1 A third type — melanoma — isn’t as common. But it’s the most serious and deadly form.

Here’s the thing to remember about any skin cancer: The sooner you find it, the better. When caught early, it’s highly treatable — even if it’s melanoma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Ready for a selfie? Easy as A-B-C-D-E.

To perform a skin self-exam, get in front of a mirror with good lighting. Examine your bare skin from head to toe. Use a hand-held mirror — or ask a partner — to help check hard-to-see places, including your backside and scalp.

Check all your skin spots, including moles — where melanoma often starts. You can use these ABCDE rules to help remember potential signs:

A — Asymmetry

One half of the mole looks different from the other half.

B — Border

The mole has jagged or other irregular edges.

C — Color

The mole has varying shades of tan, brown and black — and sometimes white, red or blue.

D — Diameter

The mole is wider than the eraser on a pencil (about 1/4 inch). Most melanomas are larger than this — but they may be smaller.

E — Evolving

The mole’s size, shape or color has changed.

Also watch for any spots that are painful, itch, bleed or just look different from your other skin spots. If you find anything suspicious, be sure to tell your doctor.

3 more ways to help protect yourself

Lessen your exposure to cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) rays:

  1. Use sunscreen. Look for broad-spectrum products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Be sure they have an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Many experts recommend an SPF of 30 or higher.
  2. Seek shade when the sun’s most intense — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  3. Cover up. Wear clothing that protects your skin, such as pants, long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

What to do next

Talk with your doctor about your personal skin cancer risk — it can affect people of all ages and skin colors. Ask what steps you can take to help protect yourself.


  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force