Topic Overview

Skin cancer can be cured if found and treated early.

  • The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that all people have their skin checked as part of a yearly physical checkup. This may lead to early treatment and prevent the possible spread of cancer. Your doctor may suggest a skin exam more often, especially if you have:footnote 1
    • Familial atypical mole and melanoma (FAM-M) syndrome. This is an inherited tendency to develop melanoma. Examine your skin every month and be examined by a doctor every 4 to 6 months, preferably by the same doctor each time.
    • Increased occupational or recreational exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
    • Abnormal moles called atypical moles (dysplastic nevi). These moles are not cancerous, but their presence is a warning of an inherited tendency to develop melanoma.

Get to know your skin

Skin self-examination is a good way to detect early skin changes that may mean melanoma. Look for any abnormal skin growth or any change in the colour, shape, size, or appearance of a skin growth. Check for any area of injured skin (lesion) that does not heal. Have your spouse or someone such as a close friend help you monitor your skin, especially places that are hard to see such as your scalp and back.

A careful skin examination may identify suspicious growths that may be cancer or growths that may develop into skin cancer (precancers). Adults should examine their skin once every month.

Skin cancer often appears on the trunk of men and on the legs of women.

  • Get to know your moles and birthmarks, and look for any abnormal skin growth and any change in the colour, shape, size, or appearance of a skin growth.
  • Check for any area of skin that does not heal after an injury.
  • Have your doctor check your skin during any other health examinations. Most experts recommend having your skin examined at least once a year.
  • Tell your doctor about any suspicious skin growths or changes in a mole.
  • Be aware of the risk of skin cancer and the steps you can take to prevent it, including using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and staying out of the midday sun.

For more information, see the topic Protecting Your Skin From the Sun.

Know the ABCDEs of early detection

Learn your ABCDEs, the changes in a mole or skin growth that are warning signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: One half doesn't match the other half.
  • Border irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Colour: The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance. Colour may spread from the edge of a mole into the surrounding skin.
  • Diameter: The size of the mole is greater than 6 mm (0.25 in.), or about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution: There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or colour.

A melanoma may also look like a bruise that isn't healing, or it may show up as a brown or black streak under a fingernail or toenail.

For more information, see the topic Skin Cancer, Melanoma.



  1. Canadian Cancer Society (2012). Skin examination. Canadian Cancer Encyclopedia. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology

Current as ofNovember 20, 2015