Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma): Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about screening for skin cancer and what to look for during self-examination. Use the menu to see other pages.

Screening is used to look for cancer before you have any symptoms or signs. Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer before signs or symptoms appear. The overall goals of cancer screening are to: 

  • Lower the number of people who die from the disease, or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether

  • Lower the number of people who develop the disease 

Learn more about the basics of cancer screening.

Screening information for non-melanoma skin cancer

Early detection and recognition of skin cancer are very important. More than 75% of non-melanoma skin cancers/keratinocyte carcinomas are diagnosed by patients or their families. Recognizing the early warning signs of skin cancer and doing regular self-examinations of your skin can help find skin cancer early, when the disease is more likely to be cured.

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. For people with fair skin, non-melanoma skin cancer most often begins in places that are frequently exposed to the sun. For people with darker skin, squamous cell carcinoma often occurs in areas that are not as frequently exposed to the sun, such as the lower legs.

Include the following steps in a skin 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 if your hairdresser or barber has noticed a suspicious lesion on your scalp or under your beard, or if you find any of the following during self-examination: 

  • A growth on the skin that matches any symptom listed in the next 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

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.