A self-skin examination is the first step many patients take to identify concerning spots on the skin. Diagnosing and treating a skin cancer early offers the best chance of avoiding surgery or a serious risk to your health. While some types of skin cancer grow slowly, others – including dangerous melanomas – tend to grow rapidly. Checking your skin every three months is essential to maximize your chances of early detection and treatment.

The dermatologists who consult at Northside Dermatology advocate the importance of establishing a regular self-checking routine, to ensure cancerous lesions are identified as early as possible.

What Is the Ugly Duckling Sign for Skin Cancers?

The ‘ugly duckling’ concept is generally a useful guide for identifying potentially cancerous lesions of all types. This ‘ugly duckling’ sign can refer to any spots that seem unusual on the skin compared to other spots. Skin cancers have many faces, and can develop from lesions that are dark, multi-coloured, pink, red, purple or skin-coloured, so it is often difficult to determine which are harmful. However, an important factor to remember is that cancerous lesions usually look different from other spots on your skin and often evolve and grow in size.

What Does a Skin Cancer Look Like?

The three main types of skin cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. When conducting a self-skin check, look out for the following signs:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

  • Appears as a thickened, indurated scaly nodule
  • Feels tender

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

  • Appears pale, red or pearly in colour
  • Appears as a flat plaque or lump
  • May ulcerate or fail to heal
  • May be scar like
  • May look like a patch of eczema


  • Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in size, shape or colour
  • Can follow the ABCDE rule (see below)
  • Can be even in colour, regular in shape, pink or red, and “pimple” like
  • Can occur in unusual places such as the palms, soles, under the nails, genital skin or the inner surface of the lips

Most deaths from skin cancer are caused by melanoma. Though it is less common than other skin cancers, it is significantly more aggressive and more likely to spread to other parts of the body. It is therefore particularly important to understand how to identify a concerning lesion that could be a melanoma.

What Is the ABCDE Rule for Melanoma?

The ABCDE rule is often helpful for remembering the characteristics of a melanoma and how it might look on the skin:

  • Asymmetry – spots that lack symmetry and appear randomly shaped
  • Border – spots with irregular edges
  • Colour – blotchy spots with several colours (black, blue, red, white, grey)
  • Diameter – large diameter
  • Evolving – spots that change in colour, size or shape

How Do I Recognise a Dangerous Type of Melanoma That Is Not Typical in Appearance?

The evolution of a lesion is particularly important for recognising a melanoma. Some melanomas are thick and life-threatening but may lack the typical ABCD features, therefore it is essential to look for other indications of a cancerous lesion. Any lesion that has changed in appearance or grown for over one month should be promptly seen for an expert opinion and may need to be excised.

What Is a Pink (Amelanotic) Melanoma?

Amelanotic melanoma refers to a type of melanoma that lacks pigment; they may either be predominantly non-pigmented or completely devoid of pigmentation. These types of melanomas are often harder to detect because they are not darkly coloured like a typical melanoma.

How Do I Complete a Self-Skin Check?

To perform a self-skin examination, undress completely and be sure to scan yourself under bright light. When conducting a self-skin exam, it is essential to check your entire body from head to toe, as cancerous spots can develop in areas that are not exposed to the sun, such as between the fingers and toes or under the nails. To check areas that are difficult to access such as the back or scalp, use a large and handheld mirror, or ask a friend, partner or family member to examine the area for you.

Schedule a Professional Skin Check

Self-skin checks should be conducted every three months. Many rapidly growing skin cancers can develop in between your scheduled professional examinations, so it is essential to establish a regular self-checking routine. If you are unsure about a particular lesion, spot or unusual-looking area of skin, book a full skin exam with a consultant dermatologists at Northside Dermatology in North Fitzroy or Reservoir by calling us on 03 8582 8688.

Contact Us

Hours of Operation

Monday - Friday, 9am-5pm

Phone Number

03 8582 8688

Fax Number

03 8582 8788

Fitzroy North

379 St Georges Rd
Fitzroy North 3068

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2A Marchant Avenue
Reservoir, Melbourne

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