Dear Doctor: Mole mapping monitors for melanoma
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Q. What is mole mapping?
A. Mole mapping typically involves photography of the entire body. These photographs, which are saved digitally, serve as a baseline and assist the physician during a patient's annual skin exam. It is particularly useful in monitoring people at higher risk for melanoma, including individuals with numerous moles, a history of dysplastic or atypical moles, a personal or family history of melanoma, or a history of multiple sunburns or tanning bed use.
There are several advantages to mole mapping. The digital images act as a good reference when identifying new moles or examining if current moles have changed. The patient and physician do not have to rely solely on memory. If a mole is changing appearance or is a new lesion, it may require a biopsy to determine if it is a skin cancer. When melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is detected early, it is almost always curable. However, if the melanoma has spread, it is difficult to treat and can be fatal. Therefore, early detection is critical.
Additionally, the patient can keep an electronic file, CD or prints of their photographs that can be transported to a another physician.
However, mole mapping has not been proven to save lives. There may be a melanoma in a hidden site that has not been photographed. Early melanoma may look like a normal mole or other benign skin lesion, and might be missed. Melanoma, particularly nodular melanoma, may grow rapidly; it may reach a dangerous size before the next planned skin exam. Thus, while mole mapping serves as a significant aid, it is not a substitute for annual full body skin examinations by your dermatologist. Mole mapping is not covered by health insurance and a limited number of dermatologists offer it. However, it may be an invaluable investment for those at high risk for melanoma.
First Published October 17, 2011 12:00 am