How to Do a Monthly Skin Exam Using Your Photo Kit to Check for Melanoma

This information describes the warning signs of melanoma and teaches you how to do a monthly skin exam using your photo kit. You can do the exam yourself or with the help of a spouse, partner, family member or friend.


Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It starts in the melanocytes, which are the cells that give your skin its color. 

Melanoma can’t be completely prevented, but it is much more treatable when it is found at an early stage. Protecting yourself from the sun is important to prevent melanoma. However, it is even more important to examine your skin thoroughly each month. This can help you find any suspicious looking moles or spots on your skin as early as possible.

Back to top

Warning Signs of Melanoma

ABCDEs of melanoma

Warning signs of melanoma are often called the “ABCDEs” of melanoma.

Look for the following warning signs on any moles or spots on your skin:

A - Asymmetry: One half of the mole doesn’t look like of the other half.

B - Border: The borders (edges) of the mole are uneven and irregular.

C - Color: The mole is more than one color. Different shades of brown, tan, red, or black could appear.

D - Diameter: The mole is bigger than 6 millimeters, which is about the size of a pencil eraser.

E - Evolution: The mole is changing in any way. This includes a change in the size, shape, texture, color, or surface (such as bleeding) or any new symptoms, such as itching or tenderness.

Ugly duckling mole

Another warning sign of melanoma is called the “ugly ducking mole.” This is a mole or spot on your skin that looks or feels different than similar ones on your body.

Back to top

Skin Exam

General guidelines

  • Do your skin exam in a well-lit room.
  • You can do your skin exam alone, but it may be a good idea to ask a family member or friend to check your scalp and back. Your hair dresser may help find or monitor spots on your scalp.
  • Examine one side of your body at a time, from top to bottom. Start with one side of your body, move on to the back of your body, and then examine the other side of your body.
  • Looking in a mirror will reverse the right and left sides of your body. Hold your photo book up to the mirror to help you compare the images.
  • Remember to look for the ABCDEs of melanoma and any ugly duckling moles. Mark any changes or areas of concern on your photos using your wax pencil.
  • Bring your photos to your next appointment if you:
    • Have multiple areas of concern
    • Have difficulty remembering any locations
    • Can’t see any areas that a family member or friend circled with the wax pencil 
  • Make it easy to remember to do your monthly exam. If you have a personal calendar, put in a reminder on the dates you should to do your skin exam.
  • Visit your gynecologist, dentist, and eye doctor regularly. They may see early signs of possible skin cancer. If so, they will send you to your dermatologist.
Back to top

Your Photo Kit

Your photo kit is a tool that you can use to do your monthly skin exam. The kit includes:

  • A book of photos of each part of your body that you need to inspect.
    • The photos are arranged in the same order that you will inspect each area of your skin.
    • Each photo will be inside a plastic protective cover. You can remove the photos from their covers if you need to see them better. If you have any notes, write them in the back of your photo book.
  • A magnifying glass to view your skin more closely.
  • A wax pencil to circle any areas of concern.
    • When using your wax pencil, write on the plastic protective cover with the photo inside. Do not write on the photo itself. The markings on the plastic cover can be removed with a tissue.
  • A password-protected DVD with all of your photos in digital format.
    • Close-up images of your body are not included in your photo book. However, the DVD includes a program that lets you focus in on any area of a digital photo. Instructions on how to use the program are included with the DVD.
    • All of your digital photos are also stored securely at your doctor’s office.

Other Supplies

In addition to your photo kit, you will need the following supplies to do your skin exam:

  • A full-length mirror
  • A hand-held mirror
  • A comb or hair dryer


  1. Look at your face, neck, and ears in the mirror and then compare it to the photo of your face, neck and ears. If you are using your DVD, compare your face, neck and ears to the digital image on your DVD. 
  2. Examine your scalp. Use a comb or a hair dryer on a cool setting to move your hair so that you can see your skin better. You can ask someone else to do this for you. 
  3. Look closely at your fingernails, palms of your hands, forearms and upper arms. 
  4. Look at the front and back of your body in the full-length mirror. Use the hand-held mirror as necessary. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides. 
  5. Examine your chest, lower abdomen, and the upper and lower parts of your legs. 
  6. Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs. Look in between your buttocks and around your genital area.
  7. Sit down and examine your feet closely. Be sure to look at your toenails, in between your toes, and the soles of your feet. Melanoma can grow on skin that is never exposed to the sun.
  8. Compare the photos of each area to what you see when you look at your skin. If there’s a spot that you’re concerned about, circle its location on the corresponding photo in your photo book. 
Back to top

If You Find Any Warning Signs of Melanoma

If you find any ugly duckling moles or moles or spots on your skin showing the ABCDE signs of melanoma, circle them on the corresponding photo in your photo book. Then, call your doctor. It may not be melanoma, but your doctor or nurse will decide if you need to see a dermatologist. If you notice any small changes to these moles or spots, tell your doctor at your next routine visit. Call your doctor or nurse if you have any questions.

Back to top

Last Updated