How to self-check for skin cancer (and what to look for)

When was the last time you performed a head-to-toe self-check for suspicious spots on your skin? In this short video, Dr Rowan Flanagan explains how to check your skin for signs of skin cancer, and what skin cancer may look like.

Why is self-examination for skin cancer important?

Regular self-monitoring is crucial for detecting potential skin issues early, before they become complicated or even life-threatening. During your regular skin check, your doctor can only assess the spots present at the time of your visit. As new changes can occur over time, self-monitoring between skin checks is key.

When it comes to identifying suspicious spots, Dr Flanagan says that a helpful approach is to look out for "ugly ducklings" - a spot that you have never seen before or that appears different from the others. Take note of any changes or unusual growths on your skin that don't disappear over a couple of weeks.

How often should I self-examine my skin?

Dr Flanagan recommends establishing a routine by tying your regular self-exam to a memorable event or date. This could be a change of season, tax time, a birthday, or any other significant occasion that will remind you to conduct a thorough self-check for skin cancer. Take a few extra minutes in front of the mirror during these occasions to carefully inspect your moles and any other areas of concern.

If you come across something during your self-examination that raises doubts or concerns, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with your doctor, even if you're not yet due for your skin check. Early detection significantly improves treatment outcomes.

What do I look for in a skin self-exam?

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.

  • Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC, often appear as small, raised, pearly lesions or persistent wounds that fail to heal over a period of three to four months.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is less common but can be more problematic, as it has the potential to spread to other areas of the body if left untreated. SCC typically presents as pink, scaly patches on the skin that do not heal, or as fast-growing, raised lesions.
  • Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and the one that causes the most concern. Melanomas can appear as flat lesions with irregular colors or as raised, fast-growing, aggressive growths. Some melanomas may bleed, become tender, or cause itching, while others may appear relatively harmless.

Regularly examining your skin, looking for any changes, and seeking professional evaluation when necessary are vital steps in maintaining your skin health. Remember, early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and recovery.

Watch the full videos with Dr Rowan Flanagan now: