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Mole Mapping: What It Means for You and Your Family
Posted on Oct 09, 2014 by Luke James
Skin cancer is an ever-present threat in the UAE due to the almost constant sun. We explore the technology behind mole mapping and how it can be used to protect you and your family from the dangers of skin cancer.
The heat and scorching sun of the UAE are unavoidable, and for anyone that spends much time working or playing outside, these elements can wreak havoc on your skin. It’s not just your complexion that can suffer however -- exposure to the sun’s powerful UV rays can cause potentially lethal skin cancer. Luckily, with early detection, most skin cancers are not fatal, which is why there has been a push towards early detection through self examination and technology like mole mapping.
So, what is mole mapping? Basically, mole mapping is a process where digital photography is taken of moles across the body, which is then fed into a machine that analyses the characteristics of the mole to assist in identifying if it has the potential to become cancerous.
It is estimated that mole mapping offers 25 to 30 percent more information about the characteristics of a mole than a visual scan, since a penetrating digital image of the mole gives a magnified view, allowing doctors to see colour distribution and granular distribution as well as vascular patterns of the mole which are not visible from the skin’s surface. After the first mole mapping, a computer stores this information and it is used as a baseline for future examinations to analyse if there has been any change to the size or shape of the mole -- often a sign of potential future complications.
Mole mapping technology has been instrumental in saving lives across the world, and nowhere is there a more textbook example of this than in Australia. Due to a combination of factors including damage to the ozone layer, a predilection towards an outdoor lifestyle and a predominantly fair skinned population, Australia has the highest per capita skin cancer rate in the world. In fact, skin cancer accounts for more than 80 percent of all new cancers diagnosed in Australia each year with two out of three people over the age of 70 developing skin cancer at some point across their lifetime. In 2011, 434,000 people were treated for one or more skin cancers, with 2,000 people dying as a result.
There are now over 500 mole scanning clinics across Australia helping clients monitor the health of their moles. With assistance from national awareness campaigns, mole scanning has helped Australia reduce its skin cancer related mortality rate by 16 percent over the past 30 years.
Who Is Mole Mapping Best Suited for?
Mole mapping is of particular use to individuals who have:
A large number of moles (more than 50)
Atypical or dysplastic nevi (large moles or moles with unusual color or shape)
Moles on their back, which can often be hard to self-diagnose
A family history of melanoma
Previous history of melanoma
Fair skin or skin that has been repeatedly or severely sunburned
Concerns about individual moles or freckles
The cost of preventative treatment for skin cancer is far cheaper than the cost of disease management: so surely health insurance providers are rushing to make mole mapping more accessible to patients -- right?
Not exactly. There are dissenting voices about the efficacy of mole mapping, with many advocates saying the availability of mole mapping could give at-risk patients a false sense of security. Donna Parsons from the Irish Cancer Society has said it is critical that individuals regularly check and know their own skin: going to a doctor for annual mole mapping isn’t enough. “Check moles for changes. If there is a change people should go and see their doctor; they are the experts and those changes have to be investigated.”
Patrick Ormond, a consultant dermatologist at the Hermitage Clinic and St James’s Hospital in Dublin, has argued that mole mapping is useful in high risk patients but says it hasn’t proved useful amongst patients who don’t have a significant risk of developing skin cancer in the first place. Ormund has also stated that GPs or dermatologists are best equipped to screen moles for potentially malignant changes, and that mole mapping should only be part of a full skin examination by a doctor. If the patient is found to be high risk, then the doctor may well order a mole mapping test, which in most cases would be covered by insurance.
These and other clinicians and industry experts are not opposed to mole mapping on high risk patients: they just think it shouldn’t be a concerned patient’s first port of call. In the case of high risk individuals that exhibit some of the characteristics of family history of melanoma, previous history of melanoma or a large number of moles, mole scanning is an important tool in ensuring that their long term health is maintained. For those that are not considered high risk, it's still a good idea to be proactive and keep an eye out for dangerous moles. The following is a checklist of what to look out for whilst checking over your moles. If you exhibit any of the following signs, you should immediately see your doctor.
What to Look for Whilst Checking for Moles
Asymmetry: One half of the mole appears different than the other half
Border: The edges or border of the mole are irregular, blurred or ragged
Color: The mole is different colours or exhibits shades of tan, blue, red, brown, black or white
Diameter: The mole is larger than 6 mm in size
Evolving: The mole is changing in colour, shape or size and/or appears different from other moles
Overall, if you’re in need of mole mapping it’s important that you check the specific details of your health insurance policy to ensure the treatment is covered. In most cases, if a patient is referred to a dermatologist from a GP, mole mapping is covered under by their health insurance policy. Keep in mind that by far the best way to prevent skin cancer is to be mindful of the sun and its damaging rays. Wear skin protection in the form of hats, shirts and sunglasses, try to minimize the amount of time you spend in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and always wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors.