Top of page Skip navigation

 Self examination for skin cancer

Some melanomas grow quickly, but many grow slowly taking over 20 years to develop. Skin cancer, if found early, is very treatable. You can help to identify skin cancer early by doing a self examination every 3-6 months; one 10 minute check could help save your life!


Click on the video link to see examples of suspicious moles  (source skin cancer guide canada)

Where to examine:

  1. Start at the top of your body and work your way down using one or two mirrors
  2. Move your hair to examine your scalp
  3. Examine your face and head
  4. Look at your hands (including your nails)
  5. Check your elbows/forearms, upper arms, shoulders and underarms (you may need to use the second mirror to aid with this)
  6. Carefully check your neck, chest and torso
  7. Examine your legs
  8. Examine your feet, soles, toe nails, and heels


What to look for:

Most people have moles, freckles or birthmarks, but any irregularities or a change in the shape, colour, asymmetry or size can be warning signs of skin cancer.

  • Note changes on your skin, such as a growth or a sore that won't heal.

  • Look for small lumps that are smooth, shiny and waxy, or red or reddish brown.

  • Be alert to flat red spots that are rough or scaly.

For melanoma, the changes have been classified as the ABCDE's of melanoma:



Common moles are round and symmetrical. Most early melanomas are asymmetrical. If a line divided through the middle of your mole doesn't create equal halves then ask your doctor to have a look.

Border irregularity

Common moles have fairly smooth and even borders. Most early melanomas have borders that are often uneven and may have rough edges.

Colour change

Common moles usually are a single shade of brown. Varied shades of brown, tan or black are often the first sign of melanoma. As melanomas progress, the colours red, white and blue may appear.

Diameter >5mm

Early melanomas tend to grow larger than common moles -- generally to at least the size of a pencil eraser (about 6mm, or 1/4 inch, in diameter). Melanomas can be diagnosed at sizes much smaller than this - the smaller the melanoma when diagnosed, the better. Lesions under 7mm have a low risk of recurrence if removed.


See an expert immediately (Doctor or Dermatologist)


You should also be aware of other changes to your moles and seek medical advise if any of these changes occur:

  • The mole suddenly or continuously gets larger.

  • The skin around a mole becomes red or develops coloured blemishes or swellings.

  • A mole that was flat or slightly elevated increases in height rapidly.

  • A smooth mole develops scaliness, erosion or oozing. Crusting, ulceration or bleeding are signs of more advanced disease.

  • Itching is the most common early symptom - there may also be feelings of tenderness or pain. Skin cancers however are usually painless.

Early detection of skin cancer is critical as it reduces the risk for spread to other areas of the body; have your moles checked regularly by a dermatologist or your family doctor.


Remember the ABCDE rule: