How to Fight Skin Cancer: Self-Examination and Prevention

Skin cancer is both preventable and treatable, yet it has become alarmingly common. The key to fighting skin cancer is prevention and early recognition – and contacting your doctor immediately if you have any concerns. Here you will find details of how to perform a self-examination and measures you can take to prevent skin cancer that are easy to carry out and stick to.


  • The first time you do this, look at the entire surface of your skin carefully and learn the look and feel of moles, blemishes, freckles and other marks, and the patterns they make, so that you know what is normal for you.
  • Examine yourself once a month.
  • Contact your doctor if you notice any changes over time in the size, shape, color or feel of the marks on your skin, or if you find anything new or unusual.

Skin cancer prevention

(a) Standing in front of a full-length mirror in a room with lots of natural light, check your face, neck, ears, chest, and stomach. Look at both the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then raise your arms and look at your left and right sides. Women should lift their breasts to check the skin underneath. Also, use a hand mirror while in front of the full-length mirror to check the back of your neck, shoulders, and upper arms.
(b) Check both sides of your arms, both sides of your hands and your fingernails.
(c) Sitting down, check your legs, including the back of your calves and thighs, the bottom of your feet, the spaces between your toes and your toenails.
(d) Using a hand mirror, inspect your lower back, buttocks, legs, and genital area. You could ask a relative or close friend to look at hard-to-see areas like your lower back, back of thighs and scalp.

Prevention: Protection from the Sun

Taking measures to protect your skin from the sun limits how much UV (ultraviolet) radiation gets into your skin, reducing your risk of developing skin cancer. Protect your skin against UV light by avoiding the sun, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreens.

  • Avoid midday sun
  • Limit how long you are out in the sun if you are at high risk of skin cancer
    Risk factors are:
    fair skin
    multiple moles
    skin that burns in the sun
    red or blond hair
    family history of skin cancer
  • Apply sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF)
    Make sure you put enough sunscreen on your skin for the whole time you are in the sun.
    Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before you go in the sun and reapply it after 2 hours, or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
    Used correctly, a tablespoon of sunscreen will cover your face and 2 ounces (a shot glass) will cover exposed areas of your body
    Make-up products containing sunscreen do not provide adequate coverage, particularly as you are unlikely to use them on your ears, neck, or chest.
    Skin experts in most countries recommend using a sunscreen with both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) protection, with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Wear protective clothing
    When standing upright in the sun make sure you protect your scalp, face, upper back, and forearms
    Wear a wide-brimmed hat.

Are You Getting enough Vitamin D?

You need UVB radiation from sun exposure to make vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for your bones and for your muscles to work properly. Not getting enough vitamin D can cause disease, including cancers. So, if you are not at risk of skin cancer, you still need some sensible exposure to the sun. If you are at high risk for skin cancer and you are taking measures to avoid the sun, consider taking vitamin D supplements.

The Slip, Slop, Slap protection message from Australia:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slop on sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat


Information based on Fast Facts: Skin Cancer (second edition, Karger, 2015).

Dr Sarah T. Arron

Dr Sarah Arron is a dermatologist and Mohs micrographic surgeon with a research focus on skin cancer. She is passionate about bringing innovation to the field of dermatology. A graduate of Harvard University and Cornell University Medical College, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003 for her residency and Mohs fellowship at UCSF. She then joined the faculty in Dermatology at UCSF, where she served as Director of the High Risk Skin Cancer Program and Chief of Mohs Surgery at the San Francisco VA hospital. From 2020 to 2021 she served as Vice President of Clinical Development at Rakuten Medical, Inc. where her research program aimed to bring innovative therapy to patients with cancer, including cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. As of September 2021 she is working in full practice in Burlingame, California.

Dr Arron is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American College of Mohs Surgery, and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Photo: UCSF/Sarah Arron