Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the Importance of Self-Exams

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to be reminded of the importance of self-exams.

Skin cancer is often treated with success but like with many other cancers, the earlier you find and treat it, the better.

One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization that educates people about skin cancer and prevention. In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month during the month of May, it’s good to be reminded of the importance of having a doctor check you for possible skin cancer, especially if you are fair-skinned and/or blue-eyed, had a sunburn when you were 18 or younger, or have a personal or family history of skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is rare in children so kids generally don’t need a screening,” said Dr. Michael Trauner, a Community Memorial Health System dermatologist and Mohs Surgeon.  “But adults should have a full-body skin screening done by a dermatologist who is a specialist that would have a better chance of finding skin cancer and finding it earlier.”

“A dermatologist can asses the patient’s risk and determine if a primary care doctor or a dermatologist should do skin cancer exams moving forward,” Dr. Trauner continued.  Adults can have a skin cancer exam done during their annual physical or by a dermatologist.

“Those who have a low risk for skin cancer should do a self-exam quarterly and those who face a higher risk should do a self-exam monthly,” Dr. Trauner said. “Involve your spouse, they might be the first person to notice something different, or you might need assistance checking your back,” he said.

Here’s how to do a self-exam at home:

  • Examine your face: check your nose, lips, mouth, and ears, both front and back. Use a couple of hand-held mirrors to help you get a better view.

    Use a hand-held mirror to get a better view of hard-to-see areas, or ask your partner for help!
  • Inspect your scalp: use a blow dryer and mirror to expose your entire scalp, section by section.
  • Inspect your arms: Check all sides and underarms too.
  • Check your hands and wrists: check your palms and the backs of your hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails.
  • Check the neck, chest and torso: including for women, under the breasts.
  • Inspect your back: use a hand mirror to look at the back of your neck, shoulders, back and butt, in a full-length mirror. Don’t forget the back of the legs.
  • Sitting Down: Use a hand mirror to examine genitals, shins, ankles, feet, between toes and under toenails. “Melanoma can occur under the nail and it’s often missed there,” Dr. Trauner said.
If you identify anything suspicious, make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

Here’s what to look for:

  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or brown spot on the skin that changes color, increases in size or thickness, changes in texture, has an irregular shape, appears on the body after age 21, or is bigger than a quarter-inch in size. “Any moles that change in size, shape or color should especially be evaluated,” Dr. Trauner said.
  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed, or an open sore that doesn’t heal. “I tell patients that anything that bleeds easily, won’t heal, and continues to grow and change should be evaluated. Towel drying shouldn’t cause your skin to bleed,” Dr. Trauner said.
  • “Note that skin cancers tend to be in the areas of the most cumulative sun damage: the head, neck, shoulders and arms,” Dr. Trauner added.

If you find anything suspicious, call a dermatologist for an appointment right away!


Michael Trauner, M.D. is fellowship-trained Mohs micrographic surgeon.  He earned his medical degree from Duke University and completed his residency in dermatology at the University of California Davis Medical Center.  He also completed a fellowship in dermatologic surgery at the New England Medical Center in Boston.  Dr. Trauner practices at the Community Memorial Health System Centers for Family Health.