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by Laurie Wertich & Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 5/2022

Any changes to your skin should be discussed promptly with your healthcare provider. In particular, the following lists of abnormalities may be signs of non-melanoma skin cancer or melanoma.

Signs of Non-melanoma Skin Cancer

  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Areas of the skin that are: Small, raised, smooth, shiny, and waxy. Small, raised, and red or reddish-brown. Flat, rough, red or brown, and scaly. Scaly, bleeding, or crusty. Similar to a scar and firm.

Signs of Melanoma Skin Cancer

  • Change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole.
  • A black or blue-black area.
  • A new mole that may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.”
  • In particular, watch closely for these characteristics in new and existing moles: Border—edges are often ragged, notched, blurred, or irregular in outline; the pigment may spread into the surrounding skin. Color—color is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, grey, red, pink, or blue also may be seen. Diameter—is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).

Visit the Melanoma Resource Center

How to Do a Skin Self-Exam

Your doctor or nurse may suggest that you do a regular skin self-exam to check for skin cancer, including melanoma.The best time to do this exam is after a shower or bath. You should check your skin in a room with plenty of light. You should use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. It’s best to begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles, and other marks are and their usual look and feel.Check for anything new:

  • New mole (that looks different from your other moles)
  • New red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised
  • New flesh-colored firm bump
  • Change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole
  • Sore that does not heal

Check yourself from head to toe. Don’t forget to check your back, scalp, genital area, and between your buttocks.

  • Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or a blow dryer to move your hair so that you can see better. You also may want to have a relative or friend check through your hair. It may be hard to check your scalp by yourself.
  • Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
  • Bend your elbows. Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides), and upper arms.
  • Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs. Also look around your genital area and between your buttocks.
  • Sit and closely examine your feet, including your toenails, your soles, and the spaces between your toes.

Bu checking your skin regularly, you will learn what is normal for you. It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If your doctor has taken photos of your skin, you can compare your skin to the photos to help check for changes. If you find anything unusual, see your. 

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Tips for Skin Self-Exams

Experts recommend a monthly skin exam. A monthly self-exam allows you to become familiar with your moles' appearances so that you can detect changes. The monthly exam also will enable you to see new moles.

The ABCDE guidelines are an easy and convenient way to conduct your monthly skin exam.

  • A – Asymmetry. If you look at a melanoma mole, the halves don't match. The left edge may be shaped differently than the right edge, or one side of your mole might be darker than the other side.
  • B – Border. Melanomas have an irregular-shaped border; the border may be blurred, jagged, notched, or scalloped.
  • C- Color. Moles that contain different colors may be melanoma. You might see several shades of brown or tan mixed with patches of black. Larger melanomas can develop patches of blue, pink, red, or white.
  • D – Diameter or Dark. Moles that are larger than one-quarter inch (the diameter of a pencil eraser) could be melanoma. Be on the alert if one mole is significantly darker than your other moles.
  • E – Evolving. Evolving means changing or progressing — in size, shape, or color, or it becomes itchy or begins bleeding.

Apps To Track Skin Changes

The best way to track skin changes is for regular visits to your doctor so they can "map" and concerning changes. There are also newer digital options including smartphone apps which are quite helpful for individuals that don't have easy access to healthcare or want to follow things on their own. 

These smartphone apps are helpful, but they do not take the place of seeing a dermatologist when you detect moles that look suspicious. 

Apps for both Apple and Android phones.

  • Miiskin. Miiskin is a paid "aka premium" app. It uses high-res photography to take photos of large parts of your body. The app allows the user to compare individual moles over time to detect changes.
  • MoleScope. Users must purchase a device that attaches to their smartphone. Photos taken with the attachment are sent to a dermatologist for an online opinion.
  • SkinVision. A board of dermatologists developed this paid app. The app uses a deep learning algorithm to analyze your mole photo and assess whether it is high-risk within a minute.
  • UMSkinCheck. This University of Michigan Medical School app is free and allows users to do a complete skin cancer exam and track changes over time. The app stores your baseline photos for comparison. It also furnishes prompts to remind you to check your skin regularly.

Early detection of suspicious moles saves lives and helps prevent disfigurement because a patient waited too long to see a dermatologist. Be sure to incorporate a monthly skin self-exam into your routine.

References:

  1. National Cancer Institute. Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/Patient.
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/Patient.
  3. National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About™ Melanoma. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/melanoma/page8.
  4. https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/melanoma/page8.