How to Check for Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers in the United States, more common than all other cancer diagnoses combined. While melanoma is just a small portion of those cases (about 1 percent), it is the most deadly.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that nearly 98,000 men and women in the U.S. will receive melanoma diagnoses in 2023, with about 5 percent of those cases becoming fatal.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Following are some facts about melanoma risk factors:

  • Men are more susceptible than women
  • White people are 20 times more likely to develop melanoma than any other ethnic group
  • Many melanomas develop independent of damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • While the risk increases with age, melanoma is one of the most common cancers affecting those under 30 years old

How Can I Detect Skin Cancer or Melanoma Early?

Early detection is key, according to the National Cancer Institute. When skin cancer or melanoma is found early, it may be treated more easily.

  • Talk with your doctor if you see any changes on your skin that do not go away within one month.
  • Check the skin on all surfaces of your body, even in your mouth.
  • Watch for a new mole or other new growth on your skin.
  • Check for changes in the appearance of an old growth on the skin or scar (especially a burn scar).
  • Watch for a patch of skin that is a different color and becomes darker or changes color.
  • Watch for a sore that does not heal – it may bleed or form a crust.
  • Check your nails for a dark band. Check with your doctor if you see changes, such as if the dark band begins to spread.

How to Check for Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Talk with your health care provider about how often you need a skin exam. You may need one more often if you have an increased risk of skin cancer or melanoma.

You may have an increased risk if you have had skin cancer before, have a family history of skin cancer or a weakened immune system. Your provider may advise you to perform a skin self-examination at home once a month to check for suspicious moles. To do this, get to know the pattern of moles, freckles, blemishes and other marks on your skin. Then, perform the following steps:

  • Facing a mirror, examine the skin all over your body for any changes.
  • Be sure to check areas that are easy to miss, such as the space between your fingers, the tops of your feet, under your nails and the area that your underwear covers.
  • Use a hand mirror to check areas that you can't see easily, such as your buttocks, back of your neck or back.
  • Always check your scalp by parting your hair and looking at your skin in a mirror.

Report any changes to your doctor right away.

Find out more about the City of Hope Skin Cancer and Melanoma Program.