Information on Free Skin Cancer Screenings

And How to Perform a Self Exam

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Being sun smart and checking your skin regularly for suspicious moles or spots is one of the best ways to keep your skin healthy and cancer-free.

Woman getting her skin checked
zoranm / Getty Images

At least once a year, a person should have a clinical skin exam, either by their primary healthcare provider or by a dermatologist. A clinical skin exam is a visual exam of the skin done by a trained healthcare provider.

Where to Get a Free Screening

Through the American Academy of Dermatology's National Skin Cancer Screening program, volunteer dermatologists perform skin cancer screenings at no cost. You can find when and where free screenings are held by visiting the Academy's website.

How to Properly Perform a Self-Examination 

Health insurers cover some skin cancer screenings. However, if you do not have health insurance or cannot afford a visit for a clinical skin exam, there are still ways to look for cancer by performing self-examinations. You can perform a self-exam at any point in time. You are likely to be more familiar with your own skin than anyone else, thus it will be easier for you to spot potential issues.

When performing a self-exam, be sure to check every area of your body, including areas that you may not normally be able to see. You may need mirrors to properly check every area. Check your arms, hands, legs, feet, and chest. The mirror may be necessary to see your back completely. You may also need a comb to check underneath your hair.

There are several things to look for when checking your own skin for potential signs of cancer. Typically, you are looking for any changes that occur over time and marks on your skin. In order to do this, you should become familiar with moles and marks on your skin to recognize changes.

Specific warning signs include new red, or dark-colored patches on the skin, new firm flesh-colored bumps, bleeding sores that do not heal on their own after a couple of weeks, as well as changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Warning signs on a mole may include a mole that is painful or itchy, larger than 6 millimeters across, strangely shaped, or multi-colored.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you get moles checked?

    Moles should be checked any time there have been changes in the ABCs:

    • Asymmetry: Each half looks different
    • Border: Irregular or poorly defined
    • Color: Has different colors within the mole
    • Diameter: Larger than 6 millimeters are more suspicious
    • Evolving: Has been changing over time
  • How often should you get moles checked?

    Most dermatologists recommend you get a full-body skin exam once a year. However, you should see a dermatologist immediately if you notice any changes in your mole's appearance.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. How to do a skin self-exam.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Free skin cancer screenings.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Detect skin cancer: how to perform a skin self-exam.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed