Examining Your Skin For The Signs of Skin Cancer

mole mapping

You’ve probably heard me lecturing again and again about the importance of examining your skin and having your skin professionally examined but maybe you’re not certain on the ins and outs of it. Having recently done some work with the Irish Cancer Society, this has rightfully become a query of many.

It is essential to have a regular routine of self-examination to track the ABCDE signs of skin cancer and melanoma. Using a mirror or two, examine your face (eyes, lips, ears, mouth and nose) front and back, check your scalp using a mirror and a cold hairdryer, check your hands, front and back (don’t forget your nails, between your fingers and under your fingernails).

Move up your arms and carefully examine your forearms, front and back again – are you noticing a pattern?! Using a full-length mirror, look at your upper arms, both the fronts and sides, and take care to also check your underarms. Next up, it’s time to look at your neck, chest, torso and, for the ladies, under your breasts.

Use a hand mirror with the full-length mirror to check out your upper back, shoulders, neck and the back of your arms and move it down after to look at your lower back, buttocks and legs. Put one of your feet up and, using the hand mirror, examine your genitals, the inside and front of your legs, your knees, calves, thighs, shins, ankles and tops of your feet.

After this, switch which leg is on the chair or, realistically, the bin in your bathroom, and take another look. Finish up your examination by carefully checking the sole of your feet, your heels, your toes, between your toes and under your toenails.

The ABCDE signs you should be tracking month to month are as follows: asymmetry (each side is not shaped the same way as the other), border (the edges are blurred, irregular or scalloped), colour (different shades of black, brown and pink in the same mole), diameter (most melanomas are 6mm in size or bigger) and evolving (it has gotten bigger or changed).

If there appear to be any causes for concern, the next step is to visit your GP for a more thorough assessment of your lesion or lesions. Your GP may refer you to a dermatologist for a hands-on, one to one manual analysis as nothing can truly beat an expert eye.

What should you expect from your skin assessment?

  • You will be asked to complete a form or to answer a few questions for the purpose of melanoma risk assessment. Usually, these are questions about where you have lived and your personal and family history of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • Your dermatologist will examine you head-to-toe, explaining which of your lesions (moles) are normal and why they are normal.
  • If anything picked up during the manual exam seems suspicious, you will be given an urgent referral to a hospital.

Who should have a skin assessment?

Everyone! Regardless of your race, your gender and your age (even teenagers and sometimes young children), skin cancer can affect you. I wish this wasn’t true but after all my talks, radio guest spots and events, at least one person tells me of a friend or relative who has experienced this. It is especially essential if you are at a high risk of skin cancer, for example, if…

  • You have light skin or fair hair.
  • You have a lot of moles and/or freckles.
  • You get sunburned and you don’t tan easily.
  • You have a family history of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • You’ve spent time living in countries with hotter climates.

It’s important to know what’s true and just plain myth in regards to skin cancer. Men can get skin cancer too – in 2013, 6’000 men were diagnosed with skin cancer compared to just under 5’000 women and skin cancer makes up 31% of all cancers in men, 2% higher than in women. If you’d like to educate yourself a little bit further (don’t worry, it’s not obligatory homework), take a look at my videos with the Irish Cancer Society here.

How much does an examination with a specialist cost?

Often, it depends on how many moles or lesions are being examined. It will usually be about €50 for one, going up to €200 for multiple lesions.

Why is it important to examine your skin?

  • Both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer are largely treatable if caught early. As you’ve heard countless times, early detection is key.
  • Skin cancer is incredibly common in Ireland, diagnosable in 1 and 6 men and 1 in 9 women over a lifetime.
  • By continuously having your skin checked, you are always one step ahead!

Remember, detection of abnormal moles and lesions is essential but make sure to continue protecting your skin. Cover up with a big, chic hat a lá Audrey Hepburn and long sleeves in the sun – it all helps. Spend your time in the shade and use a broad-spectrum sun cream (the type that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 30 but preferably 50.

La Roche Posay have some great options for all different skin types and even for small hoomans (the dermo-kids range). Now you’ve no excuses!!


From left to right: La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Comfort SPF 50+ for dry skin (€19.22), Anthelios XL Spray SPF 50+ for body (€21.60), Anthelios XL SPF 50+ Anti-Shine Dry Touch Gel-Cream for oily skin (€19.22)

Statistics and information were obtained from the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Skin Foundation.