Checking for Skin Cancer: When a Visual Exam Isn’t Enough

A mere visual inspection may not always be sufficient when it comes to a skin cancer diagnosis.

That’s according to a research team from the University of Birmingham in the U.K., led by Jac Dinnes, PhD, a senior researcher in the university’s Unit of Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Skin cancer, which is generally caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, is the most common form of cancer in the United States. And research concluded that some of the most common ways people check for possible skin cancer — including visual inspection and smartphone apps — aren’t enough to accurately diagnose the disease.

According to a Mayo Clinic study, diagnoses of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the two forms of nonmelanoma skin cancers, increased 263 percent and 145 percent respectively between 2000 and 2010.

Dinnes says that with this in mind, it was a good time for her and her team to use their expertise in reviewing existing diagnostic tests.

“With increasing rates of skin cancer and an increasing number of more specialized tests becoming available in primary care and specialist settings, it was a perfect fit really,” Dinnes said.

With a multitude of ways to detect and treat skin cancer — beginning with visual inspection — the researchers set out to identify the most effective ways for medical professionals to diagnose the disease.

Diagnosis can be tricky

While the first signs of skin cancer (usually an abnormality or growth on the skin) can be visible to the naked eye, this visual once-over isn’t sufficient for adequately identifying all of the problem areas.

For those who aren’t sure what to look out for, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a handy A-B-C-D-E technique.

If you have a lesion, growth, sore or mole, keep an eye on the spot’s Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolution.

If the spot is particularly large, changing size, or is jagged or asymmetrical, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

A primary care physician has better tools than the eyeball test.

Dermoscopy — an examination using a magnifying device called a dermatoscope — is better than a visual inspection alone when it comes to diagnosing skin cancer. It’s most effective when used by specialists, which may necessitate a referral from a primary care physician.

Specialized tests

There are a couple of specialized tests that can also potentially diagnose skin cancer, but according to Dinnes, more research and evidence is needed in order to optimize them.

One such technique, reflectance confocal microscopy (RCM) allows clinicians to conduct a noninvasive “virtual biopsy” of the skin. While more research is needed, this technology could become an effective part of a physician’s toolbox.

“We have not found sufficient evidence for other available tests to support any widespread introduction,” said Dinnes, “but would certainly see value in further studies of tests such as RCM in a usual practice setting as opposed to be highly experienced clinicians in specialist settings.”

The field of artificial intelligence also shows promise, but comes with some caveats.

Because computer-assisted diagnosis relies on comparing lesions with images in a database, it’s only effective if a given patient’s lesion matches up well with an image already on file.

However, Dinnes said, since Skin cancer symptoms can vary widely from person to person, so artificial intelligence systems — commonly used in smartphone apps claiming to accurately diagnose skin cancers — are hardly a foolproof diagnosis technique.

While it may be tempting to get an all-clear diagnosis from your phone, it’s best not to entrust an app with your skin health.

“Based on current evidence, we would advise against relying on a smartphone application to assess the level of risk of a new or changing mole being a melanoma,” said Dinnes. “There is a high chance that these applications will miss melanomas.”

Ultimately, skin cancer is tricky to diagnose — and keeping on top of the situation requires vigilance.

“At the end of the day, unless a biopsy is done, there is no perfectly accurate test for detecting skin cancer,” said Dinnes. “So anyone who gets a benign diagnosis and who later has continuing concerns about a particular skin lesion should always go back to their doctor for a second opinion.”

  • Harrison H. Ross
    Posted at 22:08h, 05 September

    As living in arizona, this was important info

  • Latroyne Bennifield
    Posted at 23:14h, 22 July

    G3 to know

    Posted at 15:11h, 17 June

    Good news

  • Deborah
    Posted at 17:51h, 11 June

    Living in Florida great article

  • Juanita Noce
    Posted at 17:29h, 06 June


  • Franklyn Emerson
    Posted at 02:30h, 29 May

    I already know it has to be scraped and tested to be sure

  • Jeri P
    Posted at 18:13h, 28 May

    Good info. Thank you

  • Tommy medlin
    Posted at 18:16h, 24 May

    Very informative article

  • Nelson, Bonnie
    Posted at 11:18h, 23 May

    I wish more people would take this seriously and get moles checked out earlier.

  • Cheryl Grose
    Posted at 14:34h, 22 May

    Great info

  • Meredith West
    Posted at 18:45h, 21 May


  • Cynthia Alexander
    Posted at 17:57h, 21 May

    useful information

  • Cynthia Alexander
    Posted at 17:56h, 21 May


  • Amanda Shows
    Posted at 17:24h, 21 May

    Great info

  • Ronald E Scholz
    Posted at 16:25h, 21 May

    Better option is regular check ups by a dermatologist

  • Jean Farrell
    Posted at 15:57h, 21 May

    Thank you.
    This information is extremely helpful!

  • terry king
    Posted at 23:58h, 20 May

    Had me checking

  • David Morris
    Posted at 23:38h, 20 May

    Good information to know.

  • Shannon simmons
    Posted at 21:52h, 20 May

    Good information!

  • Brooke Ransom
    Posted at 21:22h, 20 May

    Thank you

  • Brett Shortell
    Posted at 15:59h, 20 May

    Good info. Will do more self checks.

    Posted at 02:00h, 20 May

    Very good information

  • Franca Pasquale
    Posted at 15:19h, 18 May

    This was interesting !!

  • Lauren Bako
    Posted at 11:43h, 18 May

    Great read. Thank you.

  • Sherri Stoltzfus
    Posted at 22:05h, 17 May

    Thank you for the information

  • Peggy Akers
    Posted at 21:55h, 17 May

    Good advice

  • Terri Beaver
    Posted at 18:28h, 17 May

    Thank you very informative

  • Anisha Welch
    Posted at 17:55h, 17 May

    How in the world can one diagnosis skin cancer from a phone, that’s crazy! Sad that enjoying the sun can do so much good and damage all in one!

  • Derick mitchell
    Posted at 14:29h, 17 May


  • Brad Martin
    Posted at 13:16h, 17 May

    Informative article. Skin cancer is becoming far too common unfortunately.

  • Jackie Messenger
    Posted at 12:41h, 17 May

    Thank you. Informative.

  • Kelsey Walhout
    Posted at 12:35h, 17 May

    Interesting article

  • Lawrence Garcia
    Posted at 02:13h, 17 May

    Thanks, good read!

  • Mary Ella Johnson
    Posted at 01:42h, 17 May

    Good info.

  • Hope Griffin
    Posted at 23:59h, 16 May

    good to hear there are more testing options that may not be a huge expense available in the future….hopefully sooner than later!

  • Stephen Lay
    Posted at 23:16h, 16 May

    Great article. I go every year for a body exam to check for skin cancer. Have history in family of melanoma.

  • Melinda
    Posted at 23:09h, 16 May

    Good Info

  • Ramiro Samayoa
    Posted at 20:13h, 16 May

    Important information.

  • Shawn L Sanderson
    Posted at 20:00h, 16 May

    How often should you check for skin cancer.

  • Donnie Thomas
    Posted at 19:57h, 16 May


  • Sandra Vicks
    Posted at 16:26h, 16 May

    Wow….have to start checking for spots .
    Have to take better care of myself

  • Harrison H. Ross
    Posted at 15:59h, 16 May

    Good to know info giving I live in Arizona, good information

  • Joanne A.
    Posted at 15:11h, 16 May

    Great. Thank you!

  • Nicole
    Posted at 13:55h, 16 May


  • Howie Thompson
    Posted at 13:41h, 16 May

    Summer is coming. Protect your skin!

  • Matt
    Posted at 13:25h, 16 May

    Thank you for this information. Very valuable to know.

  • Jeff Chadwick
    Posted at 12:46h, 16 May

    Thank you- good information!

  • Jim Cosby
    Posted at 09:29h, 16 May

    Helpful information!

  • Mitchell Macarthur
    Posted at 04:35h, 16 May

    ABCDE that is an awesome acronym to monitor skin abnormalities thank you

  • Alexander Broderick
    Posted at 03:06h, 16 May

    interesting, might be worth a check

  • Tommy Crabtree
    Posted at 03:02h, 16 May


  • Pamela S Wieber
    Posted at 22:51h, 15 May

    Good info

  • Dorethea Brooks
    Posted at 20:03h, 15 May

    Thanks for the info

  • Melissa Ray
    Posted at 19:10h, 15 May

    Very good article

  • Wade Lannon Allen
    Posted at 19:01h, 15 May


  • Derek Bornhorst
    Posted at 18:27h, 15 May

    Great read.

  • David Murray
    Posted at 18:10h, 15 May

    I had mole onc but it turned out ok.

  • David Murray
    Posted at 18:08h, 15 May


  • David Murray
    Posted at 18:07h, 15 May

    I had a mole that was a weird shape which turned out to be benign. Thanks.

    Posted at 18:03h, 15 May


  • Rickey Harris
    Posted at 17:54h, 15 May

    Great information, i had no idea, Thanks for the knollage.

  • Brenda L Nicholson
    Posted at 16:58h, 15 May

    I had skin cancer before and removed thank you for this

  • Melinda DeBerry
    Posted at 15:40h, 15 May

    Thanks for the information

  • Nina Graham
    Posted at 14:30h, 15 May

    Read. Good Information

  • Nina Graham
    Posted at 14:29h, 15 May

    Read, Good Info

  • Janet Watson
    Posted at 14:28h, 15 May

    Very good information

  • Shayla Blakeney
    Posted at 14:11h, 15 May

    Good to know. Thanks

  • Irene Durr
    Posted at 13:38h, 15 May

    I don’t think I will be using my cell phone to look for skin cancer

  • Irene Durr
    Posted at 13:34h, 15 May

    Good information.

  • Rachelle Gizinski
    Posted at 12:13h, 15 May

    As I get older the subject becomes more concerning to me, even though you can get it at any age

  • Vicki Koch
    Posted at 12:06h, 15 May

    Another good article. My husband has had skin cancer. I need to be checked as well.

  • Shellyanne Rushdan
    Posted at 11:06h, 15 May

    Thank you!

  • Juanita Noce
    Posted at 10:02h, 15 May


    Posted at 03:39h, 15 May

    Great information

  • Felicia baxter
    Posted at 03:13h, 15 May

    Great info

  • Amanda McCord
    Posted at 01:52h, 15 May

    Very informative

  • Mary Peoples
    Posted at 01:35h, 15 May

    Very interesting

  • Syd Fees
    Posted at 01:32h, 15 May

    Very informative

  • Rudyard Sylveria Baker
    Posted at 01:08h, 15 May

    Interesting facts

  • Randy Hines
    Posted at 00:34h, 15 May

    A lot think it’s just a mole but better let the doctor decide that. Get it checked out.

  • Zachary Stivers
    Posted at 00:29h, 15 May

    Interesting read, thank you

  • sharon smith
    Posted at 23:25h, 14 May

    I like this article, I always check myself daily for anything unusual when it comes to my body. I don’t know about the cello phone thing either, but I definitely check myself. thank you

  • Ben H Poitevint
    Posted at 23:13h, 14 May

    Ok thanks

  • Rhonda Inman
    Posted at 22:53h, 14 May

    I had melanoma removed from my leg 2 years ago. I go every 6 months for screening..I go this Friday. Thank you for the information.

  • Michelle Grant
    Posted at 22:48h, 14 May

    This helps thank you

  • Brandi Stroede
    Posted at 22:48h, 14 May

    Great information

  • Betty Busey
    Posted at 22:25h, 14 May

    Skin cancer is a scary thing and I love the sun

  • Reva
    Posted at 22:09h, 14 May

    Great information to know

  • Tracy Donnalley
    Posted at 21:37h, 14 May

    This is very interesting

  • Michael Ruse
    Posted at 21:26h, 14 May

    Completed my monthly credit.

  • Janice Garner
    Posted at 21:22h, 14 May

    Good information

  • Brandi Moran
    Posted at 21:06h, 14 May

    Great information.

  • Linda
    Posted at 20:59h, 14 May


  • Crystal Cool
    Posted at 20:44h, 14 May

    Very good information to know

  • Erin Colley
    Posted at 20:42h, 14 May

    This is great information! Thank you!

  • Amy Turner
    Posted at 20:11h, 14 May

    I’m fixing to go through this to see if I have skin cancer so this was very helpful information

  • Serena Phillips
    Posted at 19:53h, 14 May

    Good Info

  • Leslie
    Posted at 19:51h, 14 May

    Very Helpful Information

  • Susan Fisher
    Posted at 19:41h, 14 May

    I didn’t know there was an app for “diagnosing.” Might be a good place to start if you are questioning a spot, but would definitely follow up with my dr.

  • Julia Haynes
    Posted at 19:37h, 14 May

    Excellent read

  • Chris Barlow
    Posted at 19:30h, 14 May

    Good information.

  • Stacey Nix
    Posted at 19:21h, 14 May

    Love these articles! Great information!!

  • Stacey Nix
    Posted at 19:20h, 14 May

    Love these articles! Great information

    Posted at 19:13h, 14 May

    Perfect time of year to pay attention to this as we head out into the summer rays. Don’t forget the sunscreen!!!

  • Patti s
    Posted at 18:28h, 14 May

    Dads had melanoma for as long as I can remember understand more when I went into nursing enlightening and educational article

  • Gary Burke
    Posted at 18:25h, 14 May

    Check all the time great information

  • Patti s
    Posted at 18:25h, 14 May

    Dads had melanoma for as long as I can remember finally understood when I went into nursing. This article was enlightening and educational

  • Lori
    Posted at 18:17h, 14 May

    Considering skin is the largest organ in our body it is so important we pay attention to the changes on our skin.

  • Jan Russell
    Posted at 18:14h, 14 May

    Good info

  • Alvin shaul
    Posted at 18:08h, 14 May


  • Cheryl Grose
    Posted at 18:08h, 14 May

    Great information

  • Tonia Wolfe
    Posted at 17:50h, 14 May

    Good info on a very important and scary topic

  • Selina Lloyd
    Posted at 17:48h, 14 May

    I would not trust a cellphone to tesr for cancer

  • Laurie Lierman
    Posted at 17:48h, 14 May

    Always use your sunscreen.

  • Lisa Dover
    Posted at 17:46h, 14 May

    Very helpful!

  • Lisa Dover
    Posted at 17:45h, 14 May

    Good info!

  • Thomas M Gavin
    Posted at 17:36h, 14 May

    Very informative.

    Posted at 17:29h, 14 May


  • Anthony Staley
    Posted at 17:28h, 14 May

    Good info

  • John w
    Posted at 17:25h, 14 May

    This article was very informative

  • Joe Drake
    Posted at 17:21h, 14 May

    very good read

  • Brandy Chandler
    Posted at 17:21h, 14 May

    Thank You for the information

  • Kathleen Bauder
    Posted at 17:19h, 14 May

    Thank You.

  • Kathleen Bauder
    Posted at 17:18h, 14 May

    Great Info

  • Kathleen Bauder
    Posted at 17:17h, 14 May

    Great Info.

  • Kristin Meschke
    Posted at 17:15h, 14 May

    Thank you!!

  • Fred Hanks
    Posted at 17:06h, 14 May

    Thank you

  • Jennifer Metcalf
    Posted at 17:06h, 14 May

    This was very helpful information.

  • Katherine
    Posted at 17:05h, 14 May

    good article

  • Kimberly Smith
    Posted at 16:53h, 14 May


  • Brad Cheek
    Posted at 16:52h, 14 May

    When in question go see a Doc.

  • Christina Woodfork
    Posted at 16:45h, 14 May


  • Yvonne Lees
    Posted at 16:29h, 14 May

    I agree with Doyle Wilkins.

  • Tonya Countryman
    Posted at 16:23h, 14 May

    Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance and the need for these advancements grow. The opportunity to aid and reach individuals in rural America, who want to take more ownership of their well-being, (in conjunction with licensed healthcare workers) support this need for AI advancements to help facilitate this partnership.

  • Nick Szynkowski
    Posted at 16:22h, 14 May

    Great job!

  • Roger Anderson
    Posted at 16:17h, 14 May

    Thank you

  • Santana Williams
    Posted at 16:14h, 14 May

    Thanks for info

  • Jonas Parker
    Posted at 16:14h, 14 May

    They need to find a cure for cancer

  • Stacy
    Posted at 16:13h, 14 May

    Interesting article

  • Shannon H
    Posted at 16:11h, 14 May

    Phones are smart, but not that smart. Talk to your Doc…..

  • Kevin K.
    Posted at 16:09h, 14 May

    Good Information, thank you.

  • kristi whitcomb
    Posted at 16:08h, 14 May

    I also had skin cancer

  • Desmond Williams
    Posted at 16:08h, 14 May


  • Lula M Scott
    Posted at 16:04h, 14 May

    Thanks very informative

  • Savanah Natividad
    Posted at 15:56h, 14 May

    Great read and information on an important topic!

  • lula green
    Posted at 15:54h, 14 May

    Great article; I have mole on my thigh that’s been there since birth. It never has changed color or size. It is a flat round mole. My doctors said no need to worry about it Other moles I have had them frozen to be removed.

  • Kristen Smith
    Posted at 15:54h, 14 May

    Good info. Hopefully as technology continues to develop we will be able to find cures to these terrible diseases. In the mean time lots of sunscreen and skin care products!

  • LaChelle Rininger
    Posted at 15:53h, 14 May

    This should be part of your annual physical

  • Jose Cermeno
    Posted at 15:41h, 14 May

    Good read!! Thanks for the info

  • Holly Michelle Green
    Posted at 15:39h, 14 May


  • Jordan Forrester
    Posted at 15:38h, 14 May

    Read! Great information!!

  • Jonathan Upholz
    Posted at 15:38h, 14 May

    Good to know

  • Michael jones
    Posted at 15:38h, 14 May

    Thank you for the info

  • Debra Main
    Posted at 15:32h, 14 May

    Thank you for the information

  • Steven Mendoza
    Posted at 15:30h, 14 May

    Thank you very much for the information!

  • Virginia Laborn
    Posted at 15:29h, 14 May

    Wow really interesting

  • Jennifer L Bowman
    Posted at 15:28h, 14 May

    Will share with my family..great info

  • Mayra Echeverria
    Posted at 15:27h, 14 May

    i would never trust the internet when it comes to cancer symptons

  • Christine Owsley
    Posted at 15:27h, 14 May

    Skin cancer runs in my family. Very informative

  • Lyndsay Myers
    Posted at 15:27h, 14 May

    Cell phone app! Crazy.
    Good info

  • Kim Hetrick
    Posted at 15:26h, 14 May

    Good reminder as summer is upon us!

  • justin part
    Posted at 15:26h, 14 May

    good read

  • Edward L Reiman
    Posted at 15:25h, 14 May

    Great info! Thanks for the read.

  • Brian Bailey
    Posted at 15:25h, 14 May

    Good information. I would not trust an app on a phone for a diagnosis. Always best to see a doctor. I like the ABCDE method for monitoring as well.

  • Tiffany Cell
    Posted at 15:23h, 14 May

    Good info

  • Nelson Little
    Posted at 15:21h, 14 May


  • Ruth Ellen Allred
    Posted at 15:19h, 14 May


  • Ruth Ellen Allred
    Posted at 15:19h, 14 May

    Thank you

  • Cynthia Osborne
    Posted at 15:18h, 14 May

    This was a very informative article.

  • Cynthia Poole
    Posted at 15:16h, 14 May

    Very interesting article. I also would not trust an app on my phone to diagnosis cancer.

  • Evangeline Lunsford
    Posted at 15:16h, 14 May

    Think I’m kinda iffy about a cell phone attempting to diagnosis cancer.

  • Pam Wells
    Posted at 15:16h, 14 May

    Very good article, interesting that you can get a diagnosis by using a cell phone

  • Harold Little
    Posted at 15:15h, 14 May

    This article can help save many lives. Excellent article!

  • Deborah Anthony
    Posted at 15:14h, 14 May

    Take care as we come into summer.

  • Lindsey Napoleon
    Posted at 15:14h, 14 May


  • Lolita Whitley
    Posted at 15:13h, 14 May

    These is very interesting news

  • Cletona Alston
    Posted at 15:13h, 14 May

    Good Information!

  • Elisabeth Beinecke
    Posted at 15:12h, 14 May

    Great information

  • Charles Calloway
    Posted at 15:12h, 14 May

    Very informative information & ThankYou

  • Stacey Dennis
    Posted at 15:12h, 14 May


  • Twakena Handy
    Posted at 15:11h, 14 May

    This is a great read!

  • Hind
    Posted at 15:11h, 14 May

    Good info

  • Keonda Maness
    Posted at 15:11h, 14 May

    This is a highly over looked cancer

  • Beth Smith
    Posted at 15:11h, 14 May

    I think dealing with skin cancer should be done with a visualization from your doctor

  • Elizabeth Fogleman
    Posted at 15:10h, 14 May

    Interesting information, and good to know that there’s evidence that skin cancers are increasing in recent years.

  • Olivia Dumont
    Posted at 15:09h, 14 May

    Very helpful

  • Brett Carmel
    Posted at 15:08h, 14 May


  • L Bennett
    Posted at 15:07h, 14 May

    Good information.

  • Sarah Mason
    Posted at 15:06h, 14 May


  • Aaryn Crosby
    Posted at 15:06h, 14 May


  • Kelly Pitts
    Posted at 15:05h, 14 May

    Very good information.

  • Freda Hunt
    Posted at 15:04h, 14 May

    Very good information

    Posted at 15:03h, 14 May

    Good information

  • Eunice Young
    Posted at 15:02h, 14 May

    Good to know

  • Donna henry
    Posted at 15:02h, 14 May

    Thank you for the info

  • Leila Cordingley
    Posted at 15:00h, 14 May

    Good information, thanks.

  • James m davis
    Posted at 14:56h, 14 May

    Thaught phones and such caused cancer

  • Brian K Gibbs
    Posted at 14:55h, 14 May

    No symptoms that I know of.

  • Lynell moss
    Posted at 14:55h, 14 May


  • Dustin Walker
    Posted at 14:55h, 14 May


  • Lorita Gavin
    Posted at 14:55h, 14 May


  • James m davis
    Posted at 14:55h, 14 May

    Agree with Doyl

  • Blake matherne
    Posted at 14:54h, 14 May

    My family is very safe and we use precaution against sun rays

  • Brian K Gibbs
    Posted at 14:54h, 14 May

    Very good article

  • Lisa Warren
    Posted at 14:53h, 14 May

    What SPF do you recommend

  • Hunter G
    Posted at 14:51h, 14 May

    Great information. Thanks!

  • KEITH fletcher
    Posted at 14:51h, 14 May

    Goid information

  • Esther Jun
    Posted at 14:49h, 14 May


  • Angela watson
    Posted at 14:48h, 14 May

    It would be cool as long as the results were accurate

  • Shelby York
    Posted at 14:48h, 14 May

    Good info thank you

  • Luther guy Morgan Jr
    Posted at 14:48h, 14 May

    This is great information that really helps

  • Luther guy Morgan Jr
    Posted at 14:47h, 14 May

    Thank this really helps

  • Danny LaFountain
    Posted at 14:44h, 14 May


    Posted at 14:44h, 14 May


  • Doyle C wilkins
    Posted at 14:42h, 14 May

    I did not know you could diagnose Skin cancer with a cell phone I would not trust this route and all good information.

  • Nestor Konditamde
    Posted at 14:34h, 14 May

    Roger that