Sep 1, 2006 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Checking Yourself for Signs of Skin Cancer

Am Fam Physician. 2006 Sep 1;74(5):819-820.

Why should I check my skin?

It’s a good idea to check your skin each month for signs of skin cancer. The sooner skin cancer is found, the greater the chance that it can be cured.

How often should I check my skin?

Try to do your skin check on the same day every month. Pick a day that you can remember, like the day you pay bills.

What’s the best way to do a skin check?

Stand in front of a full-length mirror and use a handheld mirror to check every inch of your skin, including the bottoms of your feet and the top of your head (see drawings). Have someone help you check the top of your head. Try using a blow-dryer set on low speed to move your hair out of the way.

Look for any new moles or changes in moles. Any moles that appear after you turn 30 years old should be watched carefully and shown to your doctor.

What should I look for?

The “ABCDE” rule can help you look for signs of skin cancer. When you look at moles on your skin, look for the following:

You should also watch for the following skin changes:

  • A mole that bleeds

  • A mole that grows fast

  • A scaly or crusted growth on the skin

  • A sore that won’t heal

  • A mole that itches

  • A place on your skin that feels rough, like sandpaper.

If you notice that a mole has changed, or if you have a new mole that doesn’t look like your other moles, let your doctor know.

“ABCDE” Rule

A for asymmetry: A mole that doesn’t look the same on both sides

B for border: A mole with edges that are blurry or jagged

C for color: Changes in the color of a mole, including darkening, spread of color, loss of color, or multiple colors such as blue, red, white, pink, purple, or gray

D for diameter: A mole larger than 1/4 inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser)

E for elevation: A mole that is raised above the skin and has a rough surface


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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