Physical Exam of the Skin for Skin Cancer
During a physical exam for a skin problem,
your doctor will examine the skin over your whole body, looking for suspicious
growths, moles, or lesions. The exam is done using a bright light and
sometimes a magnifying lens. The scalp is examined by parting the
Why It Is Done
A skin exam is done if you
- Suspicious moles or skin
- Symptoms of early skin cancer.
- A history of
previous skin cancer.
- 50 or more
- A family history of skin cancer.
Early signs of skin cancer are a change in
the skin, such as a growth, an irritation or a sore that does not heal, or a
change in a wart or a mole.
ABCDE rule of detection means watching for:
Asymmetry . One half of the mole doesn't
match the other half.
Border irregularity . The edges are
ragged, notched, or blurred.
Color . The pigmentation is not uniform.
Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add
to the mottled appearance. Changes in color distribution, especially the spread
of color from the edge of a mole into the surrounding skin, also are an early
sign of melanoma.
Diameter . The mole or skin growth is
larger than 6 mm (0.2 in.), or
about the size of a pencil eraser. Any growth of a mole should be of
Evolution . There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms
(such as itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or
Other signs of melanoma in a mole include changes
- Elevation, such as thickening or raising of a
previously flat mole.
- Surface, such as scaling, erosion, oozing,
bleeding, or crusting.
- Surrounding skin, such as redness, swelling,
or small new patches of color around a larger lesion (satellite
- Sensation, such as itching, tingling, or
- Consistency, such as softening or small pieces that break
off easily (friability).
Other signs of skin cancer
Signs of skin cancer include:
- A firm, transparent bump laced with tiny blood
vessels in thin red lines (telangiectasias).
- A reddish or
irritated patch of skin.
- A new, smooth skin bump (nodule) with a
raised border and indented center.
- A smooth, shiny, or pearly bump
that may look like a mole or cyst.
- A shiny area of tight-looking
skin, especially on the face, that looks like a scar and has poorly defined
- An open sore that oozes, bleeds, or crusts and has not
healed in 3 weeks.
- A persistent red bump on sun-exposed
- A sore that does not heal or an area of thickened skin on the
lower lip, especially if you smoke or use chewing tobacco, or your lips are
exposed to the sun and wind.
What To Think About
Photographs may be used to
document and detect changes in the skin, especially atypical moles. Some
medical centers use computers to compare photographs taken at an earlier exam
with new photographs of suspicious moles and lesions. This technique may more
accurately determine whether a mole or lesion is changing.
don't have to do a biopsy to see if a lesion is benign (noncancerous). They
may use a dermatoscope to see spots on the skin. This tool's special magnifying
lens and light source help the doctor see the skin more clearly. Also, with a
method called confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), doctors can look even
more closely at changes in the cells and tissue of the skin.
Some experts think it's a
good idea to check your own skin every month and have your doctor check
periodically. People who are at risk for skin cancer or those who are over 40
years old may want to have their doctor check their skin every year. If you
have already had skin cancer, your doctor will recommend more frequent
Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.
Primary Medical Reviewer
||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
||Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
||October 12, 2012