Skin cancer can affect anyone and NZ has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.  Being vigilant for any unusual skin moles or lumps is essential to identify a skin cancer at an early stage before it has a chance to grow or spread.

Key take-away points:

  • Get an annual skin check with a qualified healthcare professional
  • Check your own skin once a month
  • Work head to toe and use mirrors to examine tricky to reach areas
  • Follow the ABCDE method for checking a mole
  • Make use of your smartphone to take a photo that you can compare and contrast to

How and when to check your skin:

In addition to an annual skin check with a healthcare professional experienced in skin cancer, you should aim to check your skin once a month.  I recommend following a similar structure to that recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology guideline on how to check your skin (  I recommend:

  1. Check your face.  Carefully look at your face in the mirror.  Don’t forget to check around your eyes and lips.  Use a hand-held mirror to check around your ears, scalp and back of your neck.
  2. Check the front of your torso.  Stand in front of a full length mirror.  Check your chest, abdomen and the front of your legs.  Lift your arms up to check your back.
  3. Check the back of your torso.  This can be difficult to do independently, but with practice you can learn to use a hand-held mirror whilst standing in front of a full length mirror to check your whole back.
  4. Check your arms. Start at the hand checking the back of the hand, palm and finger nails.  The check the forearm, upper arm and up towards your armpits.  Use a hand-held mirror to check areas that are more difficult to see
  5. Check your legs. Start at your feet and carefully check the sole, top, between the toes and your toenails.  Look at the leg below and above the knee.  Use a hand-held mirror to check the back of your thighs and buttocks.

I strongly recommend using a smartphone or digital camera to take a photo of any moles that you’re worried about, and then use this photo when checking the area again 2 weeks later.  If you’re not sure, get someone experienced in skin cancer to check the mole.

What should you look for?

As a simple rule-of-thumb, any mole that seems to be changing, or has become painful or itchy, or starts to bleed should warrant a check with a qualified healthcare professional experienced in skin cancer.

A more detailed assessment uses the ABCDE technique.  If a mole has any of these features, you should get it checked:

A = Asymmetry. The two sides of the mole look notably different in shape or colour

B = Border. The mole has an irregular border, or one that is poorly defined

C = Colour. Any mole with lots of different colours (brown, red, pink etc)

D = Diameter. A mole with a diameter >6mm (size of pencil eraser)

E = Evolution.  The mole is a ‘black-sheep’ compared to your other moles, or is changing shape, size or colour

These rules mainly relate to moles that could represent melanomas.  You should also be wary of any skin lumps that become very scaly, ulcerate or grow increasingly thick. These changes could suggest other forms of skin cancer.

If you would like to book in for a precautionary skin check, or to check a skin mole or lump you’re not sure about, please get in touch.