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Finding skin cancer early
When skin cancer (non-melanoma or melanoma) is found and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. Get regular health checkups and see your doctor if you have any symptoms or are worried about your health.
If you have a higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about what can help find skin cancer early including checking your skin and having skin exams by a trained health professional.
Checking your skin
You should check your skin regularly for changes. This will help you get to know what is normal for your skin and notice when something may be wrong. See your doctor if you find any changes on your skin.
How to check your skin
Check your skin in a well-lit room. Use a mirror so you can look closely at your entire body.
Raise your arms and look at the right and left sides of your body in the mirror. Check your underarm areas and both sides of your arms. Look at your hands, each finger, between your fingers and your fingernails.
Look at the back, front and sides of your legs. Look at the tops and soles of your feet, your toenails and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.
Look at your face, neck, back of your neck and your scalp. Use a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to check your scalp.
Have someone you trust help you check areas that are hard to see.
What to look for
Skin cancer usually starts as an abnormal area or change on any part of the skin. Look for and make note of any changes including:
- a sore that doesn’t heal or comes back after healing
- a mole or sore that oozes, bleeds or is crusty
- a change in the colour, size or shape of a mole or birthmark
- a growth or area that is itchy, irritated or sore
- rough or scaly red patches
- small, smooth and shiny lumps that are pearly white, pink or red
- pale white or yellow flat areas that look like scars
- raised lumps that indent in the centre
What to do if you find a change on your skin
Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any changes to your skin. Your doctor will do a skin exam to check the specific area and look for any signs of skin cancer. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. You doctor may do a skin biopsy to check for cancer.
A skin exam allows your doctor or other trained health professional to look for any signs of skin cancer or abnormal areas of skin. It is often done as part of a yearly health checkup. Getting regular and thorough skin exams can help find skin cancer early.
Find out more about skin exams.
A non-cancerous (benign) growth on the skin that is usually tan, brown or flesh-coloured.
Moles are made up of a cluster of melanocytes (cells that make melanin, which gives skin, hair and eyes their colour). They may be raised or flat.
Also called nevus.
The removal of cells or tissues for examination under a microscope.
Different types of biopsies include incisional biopsy, excisional biopsy and needle biopsy. Sometimes imaging techniques are used to guide the biopsy, as in ultrasound-guided biopsy and computed tomography (CT)–guided biopsy.
What’s the lifetime risk of getting cancer?
The latest Canadian Cancer Statistics report shows about half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.