Skin Self-Exam (SSE)
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Skin Self-Exam (SSE)

skin self exam


A Skin Self-Exam is an examination of your skin that you perform for yourself (or with a friend or partner). It is a way for you to notice any changes or abnormalities in your skin. In specific, it is a good way to spot skin cancer early if it chances to develop.

The American Cancer Society recommends that you do a Skin Self-Exam every month. Between the ages of 20 and 40, you should also have a clinical cancer-related checkup with a skin exam every three years. After age 40, you should have a clinical cancer-related checkup with a skin exam every year.

Steps for a Skin Self-Exam

The best time to do a Skin Self-Exam is after a shower or bath. Make sure the room is brightly lit.

  1. Look at you body-front and back-in the mirror. Lift your arms and check your left and right sides.
  2. Make sure you check your whole body thoroughly, not missing any areas.
  3. Become familiar with your body. Know where your moles, birthmarks, and blemishes are and what they usually look like.
  4. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, upper arms, and hands. Make sure to check the undersides of these areas as well.
  5. Look at the back and front of your legs and feet. Don't forget between your toes and the soles of your feet.
  6. Check your face, the front and back of your neck, and your scalp using a hand mirror. Part your hair for a closer look. Most people have a lot of trouble looking at their own scalp. Sharing this task with a friend or partner makes things easier, and if your hair is long using a hair dryer to blow it out of the way may make seeing the scalp easier.
  7. Check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

If you notice any changes or abnormalities, see your doctor right away. Be particularly alert for new dark spots as these could be melanomas. Melanomas are a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer that can be completely cured if found early and completely removed. Most melanomas are brown, blue, black, or multi-colored with browns, reds, blues, and blacks. The majority of melanomas begin as flat colored patches, usually (but not always) with irregular borders. They may itch or bleed, but most melanomas cause no symptoms. Rarely, melanomas may lack color entirely. Some may grow as raised “bumps”. Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, back, and feet where people may not look carefully enough.

Your skin offers you wonderful protection from the outside world, but it can also be the site of cancers and other serious problems. Treat your skin as well as it treats you: if you see something new or suspicious, let your doctor take a look at it.


American Academy of Dermatology.

CancerNet, National Institutes of Health


Canadian Dermatology Association

Canadian Cancer Society


American Academy of Dermatology. Available at:

CancerNet, National Institutes of Health. Available at:

Last reviewed May 2008 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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