Malignant melanoma self examination


Most people with thin malignant melanomas are cured by having them removed. Some are not and the melanoma may re-appear on or under the skin. If this happens, it will probably be within the first two years, although sometimes it can be many years later.

This leaflet tells you how to look and feel for skin changes, in both treated areas and other places where malignant melanoma may develop.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will already have shown you how and where, to look and feel most carefully.

How often should I check myself?

At least once a month you should check the area where you had your operation and between that area and the nearest group of lymph nodes, and the lymph nodes themselves.

Comparing one set of lymph nodes with those on the other side of your body may help you find any changes.

Lymph nodes can trap melanoma cells before they  pass on. If they are involved, they are removed.

Self examination

Lymph nodes are found in many places in your body, but for melanoma, the important sites are:

  • Neck
  • Armpits
  • Groin

Site of the major lymph glands

  • Jaw
  • Neck
  • Armpit crease
  • Elbow
  • Groin
  • Behind the knee

You should check all of these areas for:

  • Black, brown or new marks on the skin
  • Lumps beneath the skin (pea size or larger)
  • Lumps which may be painless

Should you find any of the above, you should contact the Dermatology Nurse Specialist as soon as possible. Early detection is important.

We want to help you to get to know your body, so that you will be able to tell if there is a change on or under your skin. It makes good sense to check all over your body 3 or 4 times a year.

Begin by finding out whether you have any birthmarks, moles or blemishes. How do they look and feel?


It is important to tell your doctor as soon as possible, of any changes in size, colour or shape of existing moles, or any new moles that develop.

It's easy to check your skin!

We need your help to keep you healthy, by regularly examining the area around the site of your operation, right up to your nearest set of lymph nodes. Check your skin, from head to toe, 3 or 4 times a year. The best time to examine your skin is after a bath or shower. Use a well lit room and a full-length mirror, or the help of a friend or relative.

Five easy steps to skin examination

  1. Look at your face, neck, ears and scalp. You will find looking at your scalp easier if you use a comb or hairdryer to part your hair.
  2. Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides. Ladies, make sure you check under your breasts. Don’t forget the buttock area.
  3. Bend your elbows, and look at your forearms, then undersides and upper arms.
  4. Look at the back, front and sides of your legs, not forgetting between the toes and the soles of your feet.
  5. Sit on a chair, and put each leg in turn up on a stool. 


If you are worried about new lumps or skin ulcers, contact your specialist nurse or doctor. This is now especially important. If you have had an open sore or skin ulcer for over 2 months, which does not heal, is bleeding, or is getting bigger, show it to your doctor. 

Further help and information

We hope this leaflet has helped you to understand about skin examination, but if you have any questions please ask us. Leaflets cannot take the place of talks with doctors, nurses and other members  of the healthcare team.

If you require any further help or information you can contact the Dermatology Specialist Skin Cancer Nurse on telephone 01709 424735.

Support groups

Cancer Research UK
61 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC24 3PX

Macmillan Cancer Support

How to contact us

Dermatology Reception

Monday to Friday, 9am to 4.30pm  
Telephone 01709 424514

Dermatology Department

Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm
Saturdays and Bank Holidays, 8.30am to 1.30pm  
Telephone 01709 424436

Malignant melanoma self examination - patient information leaflet
Produced by Rowena Mellows, July 2003. 
Revised February 2006, June 2009, November 2011, June 2014, May 2016, September 2018, March 2020  
Review March 2022.  Version: 8.0  
©The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust 2020. All rights reserved.

Did this information help you?

  • Page last reviewed: 15 February 2023
  • Next review due: 15 February 2024