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Simple Ways to Spot Skin Cancer

Do you know the signs and symptoms of melanoma? Learn how to spot them at home using everyday items.

Medically reviewed in July 2021

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Using sunscreen is one basic way to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging UV (ultraviolet) rays—and skin cancer. But there’s something else you can do: a skin self-exam. These at-home exams can catch early signs of skin trouble—and earlier detection of skin cancer means better outcomes. Yet the results of a 2015 survey by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) showed that 50 percent of men and 35 percent of women didn’t know how to check their skin, and only half said they did self-exams. Admittedly, some parts of your body can be tricky to examine. Click through to discover household items you can use to make the job a little easier.

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First Things First

Choose a well-lit room with a full-length mirror. You’ll also need a hand-held mirror for hard-to-see areas such as the back of your legs—or enlist the help of a family member or close friend to search those spots. The importance of doing these checks is simple: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and can be deadly.

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Note Suspicious Spots

It’s a good idea to jot notes in a notebook or health tracker app as you examine your skin. But how can you tell if a spot is normal or cause for concern? Consider getting a full-body check from your dermatologist for a baseline of existing moles, freckles and skin lesions. Then watch for the appearance of any new ones—along with changes to existing moles or spots. Contact your dermatologist right away if anything looks different or just concerns you. Otherwise take your notes to your next check-up.

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Snap Photos

Another way to keep records is to take a break from selfies and instead take plain-Jane pictures of your skin. Have a pal snap a picture of your back each month so that you can track any changes. The back is one of the most neglected parts of the body for applying sunscreen and doing skin self-exams. According to the AAD, it's also the most common location for melanoma.

Different types of skin cancer have different symptoms. Read more about what you’re looking for here.

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Search Your Scalp

Whether you have hair or not, your scalp isn't immune to skin cancer. In fact, it's not unusual for skin cancer to take root there simply because our heads are so frequently exposed to the sun. To check your scalp, use your hair dryer or a comb to part your hair, giving you a better view. Again, a friend or relative may be your best bet for checking the rest of your scalp. Ask to have the back of your neck and behind your ears checked, too. 

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Pencil, Please

An eraser on the end of a pencil can help you easily judge the size of a mole. Normal moles are typically smaller than 6 millimeters across, which is about 1/4 inch. Think you might have a suspicious mark? Check out Sharecare's skin cancer consultation with the AskMD app. The app also provides an easy way to organize notes for your doctor's visit. 

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Schedule Your Next Skin Check

Many experts recommend that you do a skin self-exam monthly, unless your doctor advises you to do it more frequently. That's in addition to an annual skin check by a dermatologist. Whether you schedule it in your calendar, with an app or on an old-fashioned pen and paper planner, it's a date worth keeping for healthy skin.

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