Melanoma: Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the early detection of melanoma. Use the menu to see other pages.

Early detection and recognition of skin cancer are very important. Recognizing the early warning signs of melanoma and doing regular self-examinations of your skin will help find melanoma early, when the disease is more curable. Your doctor may also recommend medical tests based on your risk factors and medical history.

Self-examination

Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, even on areas that are not exposed to the sun. The most frequent locations for melanoma are the trunk (torso), legs, and arms. However, melanoma can also develop under the fingernails or toenails; on the palms, soles, or tips of fingers and toes; or on mucous membranes, such as skin that lines the mouth, nose, vagina, and anus.

Self-examinations should be performed in front of a full-length mirror in a brightly lit room. It helps to have another person check the scalp and back of the neck. Include the following steps in a self-examination:

  • Examine the front and back of the entire body in a mirror, then the right and left sides, with arms raised.

  • Bend the elbows and look carefully at the outer and inner forearms, upper arms (especially the hard-to-see back portion), and hands.

  • Look at the front, sides, and back of the legs and feet, including the soles and the spaces between the toes.

  • Part the hair to lift it and examine the back of the neck and scalp with a hand mirror.

  • Check the back, genital area, and buttocks with a hand mirror.

Talk with your doctor or a dermatologist if your hairdresser or barber has noticed a suspicious skin area, or lesion, on your scalp or beard or if you find any of the following during a self-examination:

  • A growth on the skin that matches any symptom listed in the Symptoms and Signs section of this guide

  • New growth on the skin

  • A suspicious change in an existing mole or spot

  • A sore that doesn't heal within 2 weeks

Medical tests for early detection

A painless medical technique being used for early detection of melanoma is epiluminescence microscopy, or dermoscopy. Using a handheld device, a doctor can evaluate the patterns of size, shape, and pigmentation in pigmented skin lesions. Among trained, experienced medical professionals, dermoscopy may reduce the number of biopsies (see the Diagnosis section) of pigmented lesions to rule out melanoma, although more research is needed.

Confocal scanning laser microscopy is another new technology that may improve the examination of possible melanoma lesions. Currently, it is only available in a few major medical centers.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.