Surprising Spots to Check for Skin Cancer

Don't overlook these often-missed places where skin cancer can lurk.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

1 / 9

The facts sound scary: one in five Americans will get skin cancer. Deadly melanoma is on the rise. But here's another fact: Skin cancer is almost always curable if caught early.

"A large majority of skin cancers look bad and make people worried," says John Turner, MD, a pathologist at Commonwealth Laboratory Consultants in Richmond, Virginia. Yet "a simple surgical incision taken at the right time," he adds, can mean a cure.

You probably know to protect areas like your face, neck, arms and legs. Here are other spots that should be on your radar—including a few right under your nose, and some where the sun doesn't shine.

2 / 9
How to Spot Skin Cancer

“If you’re watching something change on your body and you’re wondering if you should see a doctor, the answer is yes,” Dr. Turner says. Here's a quick guide: 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as a thick rough or scaly red patch that may crust or bleed; a raised growth, sometimes with a dip in the center; or an open sore that doesn’t heal.
  • Basal cell carcinoma can appear as a flat, firm, pale or yellow area; an itchy, raised reddish patch: a small, pearly pink or red bump; an open sore that doesn’t heal or a pink growth with raised edges.
  • Melanoma may appear as a new or existing mole, lump or marking that changes in shape, size or color.
3 / 9
Where to Check: Scalp

Unless you wear a hat 24/7, your head is almost always exposed to the sun, making your scalp a prime target for potential skin cancer. Sunscreens designed especially for hair and scalp are available, so use those for protection. To check your scalp for changes, use a hand mirror and comb, or ask a friend to help. And listen to your hair stylist.

“Occasionally hairdressers will notice if something on the scalp got bigger, darker or keeps bleeding," Turner says. If that happens, see your doctor right away.

4 / 9
Where to Check: Eyelids

You faithfully apply sunscreen on your face, but what about your eyelids? The skin around the eyes is thin and delicate, making it more prone to skin cancer. In fact, eyelid skin cancer accounts for up to 10 percent of all skin cancers.

“The eyelids are particularly scary when you talk about having surgery [to treat skin cancer],” says Turner. To help protect them, he recommends wearing UV-protection sunglasses. You can also try an eye cream or moisturizer with sunscreen, which is less likely to run into your eyes and irritate them than regular sunscreen.

5 / 9
Where to Check: Behind Your Ears

While skin cancer on the ears is fairly common, it can develop behind the ears, too. To protect your ears, Turner suggests trading in the usual baseball cap for a broad-rimmed hat that provides more coverage. You can check for skin cancer behind the ears using a hand mirror, or ask a friend to look for you. “There’s nothing wrong with using a buddy system,” says Turner.

6 / 9
Where to Check: Lips

Skin cancer on the lips, and particularly the lower lip, is actually quite common, accounting for approximately 0.6 percent of all cancers in the US. The good news is that the lips' visible location makes skin cancer easy to spot and treat early. To protect your lips, you know the drill: Use a SPF 30 or higher lip balm, and apply it often.

7 / 9
Where to Check: Hands, Feet and Nails

When it comes to your hands and feet, don't skimp on the sunscreen. Skin cancer can develop on your palms, soles, between your fingers and toes and under your nails.

“Feet and toenails are tricky places people will overlook,” says Turner. And, possibly due to genetic factors, people with darker skin tend to get skin cancer on their palms, soles and nails more often than elsewhere. Skin cancer under the nail is particularly dangerous, as it tends to go undiagnosed until it's advanced. If you notice a darkened line or streak on your nail; bleeding or ulceration of the nail; thinning, cracking or nail distortion—get it checked right away. 

8 / 9
Where to Check: Below the Belt

You may not think of skin cancer developing "down there," but it can happen. Melanomas of the vaginal area account for less than 2 percent of melanomas in women. While also rare, men can develop skin cancer on the penis.

Women should check for pain, bleeding, itching, discharge or changes in existing moles. Men should watch for areas that become thicker or change color, any sore that bleeds or moles that change in shape, size or color.

Use a hand mirror, and while you're looking, check out your rear view for skin changes around the buttocks. If you see something suspicious, don't waste time feeling embarrassed: See your doctor.

9 / 9
Protect Yourself All Over

Good sunscreen habits are key to preventing skin cancer. “What I see most often is people taking a dime-sized drop of sunscreen and trying to spread it over their entire body,” Turner says. “That’s not really how sunscreen is supposed to work." Instead, use at least a shot-glass's worth with an SPF of 30 or higher (30 for longer outdoor time) and reapply every two hours when you’re outside—and right after sweating or swimming. A few more reminders:

  • Be a shade lover from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • When you're out in the sun, cover up
  • Never use UV tanning beds 
  • See your doctor for an annual skin check

Featured Content

What a Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer


What a Dermatologist Wants You to Know About Skin Cancer
Did you know that your skin is considered an organ? In fact, it’s the largest organ in your body. Because it plays a major role in protecting your bod...
How to Protect Your Skin From Skin Cancer


How to Protect Your Skin From Skin Cancer
Applying sunscreen when you go to the beach or the pool may seem like second nature, but according to the American Cancer Society, new cases of melano...
Becoming Your Own Advocate While Treating cSCC


Becoming Your Own Advocate While Treating cSCC
It's important to take control of your care when receiving treatment for cSCC. This video shares how to do that.
What Really Works to Fight Skin Cancer


What Really Works to Fight Skin Cancer
Learn about the treatment options for skin cancer.
3 Resources for Patients With cSCC


3 Resources for Patients With cSCC
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or cSCC, is the second-most common type of skin cancer, and accounts for approximately 2 out of every 10 cases of s...