How to Test for Skin Cancer: Screening and Self-Examination Tips 

Image3Sun-kissed skin is a summertime staple, but beneath that golden tan can lie a hidden danger: skin cancer. While it’s one of the most common cancers worldwide, the good news is early detection dramatically increases successful treatment.

That said, this guide goes beyond just raising awareness. It will equip you with the knowledge and tools to become an active participant in your skin health. It will also discuss professional skin cancer screening methods and empower you with effective self-examination techniques, making you a vigilant defender against this silent threat.

What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells within your skin tissues. Normally, skin cells grow in a controlled way, with old cells dying off and new ones taking their place. However, skin cancer disrupts this process. Mutations in the DNA of skin cells cause them to multiply rapidly and uncontrollably, forming tumors.

Professional Screenings

Regular skin cancer screenings are crucial for the early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Typically, many healthcare providers offer free skin cancer screenings, making it easier for individuals to access these essential services. Here are some key methods used by healthcare professionals:

Dermatologist Visits

  • Annual Check-ups: Schedule yearly visits to a dermatologist for a comprehensive skin examination, especially if you are at higher risk for skin cancer.
  • Follow-up Appointments: If you notice any changes or new spots on your skin, see your dermatologist as soon as possible for a thorough evaluation.

Skin Biopsy

When a dermatologist identifies a suspicious spot, they may perform a biopsy. This involves removing a small sample of the affected skin to be examined under a microscope for cancer cells. There are several types of biopsies, including:

  • Shave Biopsy: A thin layer of skin is shaved off.
  • Punch Biopsy: A small, circular piece of skin is removed using a punch tool.
  • Excisional Biopsy: The entire lesion or tumor is removed.


A dermatoscope is a handheld device that allows dermatologists to examine the skin more closely. This tool helps differentiate between benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) lesions by providing a magnified view of the skin’s surface.

Mole Mapping

Mole mapping involves taking detailed photographs of your skin to monitor changes over time. This technique is particularly useful for individuals with numerous moles or those at higher risk for melanoma.

Imaging Techniques

In some cases, advanced imaging techniques such as reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM) or optical coherence tomography (OCT) may be used. These non-invasive methods provide detailed images of the skin’s layers, helping to identify suspicious areas without the need for a biopsy.


By regularly visiting a dermatologist and undergoing professional screenings, you can detect skin cancer early and improve your chances of successful treatment.

Self-Examination Tips

Performing regular self-examinations is a vital practice for detecting skin cancer early. Here are some tips to help you conduct thorough and effective self-checks:

Monthly Self-Exams

Conduct a self-exam once a month to familiarize yourself with your skin and notice any new or changing spots.

The ABCDE Rule

Use the ABCDE rule to identify potential melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole doesn’t match the other.
  • Border: Edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color: Color is not uniform and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch, the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller.
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Body Mapping

Create a body map to keep track of moles and spots. Note their size, color, and location, and update the map during each self-exam. This will help you monitor any changes over time.

Check Everywhere

Inspect all areas of your skin, including:

  • Between your toes and fingers
  • Under your nails
  • The soles of your feet
  • The palms of your hands
  • Behind your ears
  • Your scalp (part your hair to check your scalp)

Photograph Suspicious Spots

Take clear photographs of any suspicious moles or spots to monitor changes over time. Share these photos with your dermatologist during check-ups.

Know Your Skin Type and Risk Factors

Understand your skin type and risk factors, such as fair skin, history of sunburns, excessive UV exposure, family history of skin cancer, and the presence of numerous or atypical moles.

Document Changes

Keep a journal or digital record of any changes you observe in your skin. Note the date and description of the change to discuss with your dermatologist.


By incorporating these self-examination tips into your routine, you can increase your chances of detecting skin cancer early.


Skin cancer is a serious threat, but with knowledge and proactive measures, you can significantly reduce your risk. Remember, early detection is key. By incorporating the self-examination techniques outlined in this guide and scheduling regular appointments with a dermatologist, you can become a powerful advocate for your skin health.