Skip to content

Finding skin cancer early gives you the best chance of successful treatment.

It is important that you know your skin well so you can notice any changes early. It is recommended that you check all of your skin regularly and see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any changes.

Skin cancer - what to look for?

The top layer of the skin contains three different types of cells: basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes. The three most common skin cancer types are named after the type of skin cell in which the cancer develops.

There are three types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
    Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It grows slowly over months and years and may damage nearby tissues and organs if left untreated. BCCs are commonly red or pearly in colour and may ulcerate and fail to heal.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
    Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is less common but grows faster. It may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. SCCs often appear as thickened scaly spots that might ulcerate, bleed and fail to heal. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are often grouped together and called non-melanoma skin cancers.
  3. Melanoma
    Melanoma is the least common, but most dangerous type of skin cancer. Most skin cancer deaths are from melanoma. It is often fast growing and can spread to other parts of the body where it can form a secondary cancer. Melanoma is typically uneven coloured spots with an irregular shape or border.

Different skin cancers behave differently, so when checking your skin, it is important to include your whole body. A squamous cell carcinoma is likely to develop on skin most often exposed to the sun, such as the face and forearms. A melanoma can develop anywhere, even on areas not exposed to sunlight.

Cancer Council SA. SunSmart ABCDE of melanoma

Use the ABCDE of melanoma to examine your spots.

Finding skin cancer - how to check your skin.

Everyone can check their own skin. It helps to have someone assist you with those difficult-to-see places. If you have a partner or someone you feel comfortable with, ask them to help you.

With a bit of practice, most people can check their whole body in 15 minutes.

Why not check your skin when you are getting dressed or getting out of the shower?

When you examine your skin, you will need a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. You will need to undress completely. The room you use will need to be well lit.

There is no specific skin examination method; the following steps are suggested by the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

Become familiar with your skin and look for early signs of skin cancer or spots that have changed in size, shape or colour over time.

Check your face, head and neck.

  • Check your whole face including around the nose, lips and ears.
  • Look over your scalp closely.
  • Use a hand-held mirror to check behind your ears, underneath your jaw and the back of your neck.

Check your torso—front, back and sides.

  • Raise your arms and look at your right and left side.
  • Turn your back to the full-length mirror to check the back of your shoulders, upper back, upper arms and lower back.
  • Women need to check under their breasts.

Arms and hands

  • Look at both your palm and back of your hands.
  • Check between fingers and under your fingernails. If you usually wear nail polish, remove your nail polish and look for spots in your nail bed.
  • Face a full-length mirror and look at your forearms and upper arms. Bend elbows to look at the undersides.

Legs, buttocks and feet

  • Check the front and back of the thighs, lower legs and ankles.
  • Use the full-length mirror to check your buttocks and genitals.
  • Check the top of both of your feet, toes, toenails and spaces between the toes. Use a hand-held mirror to look at the sole or bottom of your foot. Sitting on a chair may make this easier.

What to do if you spot something.

If you see anything on your skin that has changed in size, shape or colour, that itches or bleeds, or that you do not think was there before, there are a number of things you can do.

  1. See your GP
    Your GP knows your full history, and can examine your skin and advise you regarding appropriate care. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk for skin cancer and for advice on early detection.
  2. See a dermatologist
    If you would like a second opinion, ask your GP to refer you to a dermatologist or surgeon with an interest in skin cancer. Your GP may suggest you see a specialist anyway.
  3. Skin cancer clinics
    Cancer Council SA does not endorse or operate skin clinics. We suggest you see your own doctor as they have your medical history and can offer
    follow-up treatment. If you don’t have a regular doctor, make an appointment to see any doctor; they are trained to examine skin cancer.If you are using a skin clinic, ask about the expertise of staff, range of services and fee arrangements they provide.

Find your closest GP with a dermatoscope.

Cancer Council SA has awarded grants to 30 South Aussie GPs to receive a fully funded dermatoscope to help detect skin cancer early.
A dermatoscope is a specialised microscope for the skin, which allows doctors to look more closely at spots on the skin. This improves early detection of skin cancer, resulting in more lives saved and less unnecessary procedures.

View the full list of GPs and practices who have been awarded Cancer Council SA’s Dermoscopy Grant below. 

Metropolitan Adelaide

Dr Emma HigginElizabeth Family Health Care, 16 Playford Boulevard Elizabeth 5112, Ph. (08) 7485 4000
Firle Medical Centre171 Glynburn Road Firle 5070, Ph. (08) 8332 0124
Dr Tien TranHallett Cove Corner Surgery, Unit 5&6 10 Ramrod Avenue Hallett Cove 5158, Ph. (08) 8322 2077
Dr Ali AltalebiPara Hills 365 Days Medical Centre, 1 Wilkinson Road Para Hills 5096, Ph. 08 7231 1988
Dr Nevin GabraPasadena Medical, 16-30 Fiveash Drive Pasadena 5042, Ph. (08) 7324 4585
AHA Seaford Meadows Day and Night Practice2/20 Prow Drive Seaford Meadows 5169, Ph. (08) 8327 2033
Dr Penny NeedPioneer Medical Centre, 1291A North East Road Tea Tree Gully 5091, Ph. (08) 8396 2522
Tranmere Village Medical Centre164 Glynburn Road Tranmere 5073, Ph. (08) 8365 1157
Dr Natalia BezrukovaWelland Medical Centre, 500 Port Road Welland 5007, Ph. (08) 8166 0466
Dr Harry KypreosWest Beach Medical, 1 Sir James Hardy Way Woodcroft 5162, Ph. (08) 8322 2099
Woodcroft Medical Centre1 Sir James Hardy Way Woodcroft 5162, Ph. (08) 8322 2099

Regional South Australia

Dr Lana TranVictoria Road Medical Clinic, 16 Victoria Road Clare 5453, Ph. (08) 8842 1000
Dr Michael MacPhersonGoyder's Line Medical Centre, 66 Irvine Street Jamestown 5491, Ph. (08) 8664 1078
Moonta Medical Centre7-12 Majors Road Moonta 5558, Ph. (08) 8825 2309
Mount Barker and Balhannah Medical Clinics59 Wellington Road Mount Barker 5251, Ph. (08) 8391 0699
Dr Ahmet LokajMount Compass Medical Centre, Unit 5/30 Victor Harbor Road Mount Compass 5120, Ph. (08) 8556 8365
Dr Shivani Gulati & Dr Timothy HarrisonHawkins Medical Clinic, 30 Sturt Street Mount Gambier 5290, Ph. (08) 8725 5266
Dr Hannah ThompsonFerrers Medical Clinic, 2-4 Wehl Street North Mount Gambier 5290, Ph. (08) 8725 4261
Dr Simon JacksonPeterborough Medical Centre, 23 Hurlstone Street Peterborough 5422, Ph. (08) 8677 6500
Dr Nicole LewisStrathalbyn Family Medical Centre, 33 High Street Strathalbyn 5255, Ph. (08) 8536 4466
Coober Pedy Medical Practice89 McDougall Street Coober Pedy 5723, Ph. (08) 8678 9224
Dr Thomas Shaw & Dr Xiaoni LiSouthern Fleurieu Family Practice, 175 Main South Road Yankalilla 5203, Ph. (08) 8558 0111

* A visiting GP to Nyrstar, Port Pirie was also awarded a dermatoscope.

You might also be interested in:

This webpage was last reviewed and updated in April 2021.