Home > Finding Melanoma Early: How to Check Your Skin

What you'll need:

  • Flashlight
  • Two small chairs or stools
  • Hand mirror with a long handle
  • Hairbrush or blow dryer for checking your scalp
  • Large wall mirror, preferably full-length, in a well-lighted area




  AAD illustration   Facing the wall mirror, examine your face including lips, ears, and eyes. Use a flashlight to check inside your mouth, nostrils, and ears. Check your neck, shoulders, and upper chest. Women should also check under breasts.  
  AAD illustration   Using both mirrors, check behind your ears, neck, and upper back. While parting your hair with the blow dryer or brush, use both mirrors to check your scalp—front, back, and sides. Or have a partner or family member help.  
  AAD illustration   Check your abdomen, front and sides. Use the hand mirror to check your mid- to lower back carefully. (The back is the most common site of melanomas in males.) Use the hand mirror or both mirrors to check all areas of your buttocks and genitals, including hidden parts.  
  AAD illustration   Raise both of your arms and check all sides of your arms and hands, including between fingers and under fingernails. Then check under your arms and the sides of your upper body.  
  AAD illustration   Sitting on a small chair or stool, prop each leg in turn on the other chair or stool. Check all sides of your legs from ankles to thighs. Check your feet, including the tops, heels, soles, between toes, and under toenails. (Legs are the most common sites of melanomas in females.)  
Illustrations: American Academy of Dermatology

Where on the Skin Does Melanoma Occur?

  • Anywhere, including places never exposed to the sun.
  • In Caucasian males, the most common location is the trunk (especially the back).
  • In Caucasian females, the most common locations are the legs (especially the back of
    lower legs) and trunk.
  • Among Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans, the most common locations are the
    feet and hands.


Melanoma under toenail

What to Do If You Find a Suspicious Mole or Lesion

  • Get examined by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon within a week. Primary care doctors are not skin specialists, so if you are required to see a primary care doctor, insist on a referral to a specialist.
  • If you are willing (or prefer) to have the suspicious lesion removed immediately, and it is not in a cosmetically sensitive area, forgo seeing a dermatologist or plastic surgeon and instead make an appointment directly with a general surgeon.
  • A suspicious lesion should be removed by surgical excision, not by shaving, burning, freezing, etc. Likewise, unless the lesion is very large, excisional biopsy is preferable to shaving or punch biopsy. Be certain to make this preference known to your health professional.
  • Some melanomas are difficult to distinguish from atypical moles. Insist on having the pathology examination of the lesion done by a dermatopathology lab (a pathology lab that specializes in skin diseases).