Careful Monitoring Can Help Spot Early Melanoma
marks' on our skin -- benign, pigmented lesions known as moles -- are
typically harmless. But a small percentage of moles turn into
melanomas, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer.
"There are a
number of different types of lesions on the skin," says Dr. James
Grichnik, a dermatologist and associate professor of medicine at Duke
University Medical Center. "Moles are lesions that people usually start
to develop during adolescence. They can be born with them as well.
Moles tend to be pigmented areas, and the skin surface over them tends
to be relatively smooth.
can be initiated through a variety of factors, one of which is thought
to be sun exposure, particularly during childhood," Grichnik adds.
"There is also a genetic element, and moles can run in families. So can
It's vital to
catch melanomas early, when they're curable, Grichnik says. "Once they
get deeper into the skin, the risk of having that tumor spread
continues to increase."
High-risk individuals include those with many moles, large irregular moles and a personal or family history of melanoma.
are actually quite rare in terms of the overall number of moles, but if
an individual has a mole that just doesn't match the others, perhaps
appearing to be more irregular, or if it's growing or changing, then
it's definitely worth seeing a physician," Grichnik says.
To aid in
mole surveillance, Grichnik developed a mole-mapping program that uses
a set of computerized, high-resolution photos of the body to track
moles over time. "We create a good set of full-body photos," he
explains. "This allows us to identify lesions that may be changing over
a period of time. We then sort out the moles that may be potential
melanomas. We can then focus in on the lesions that may be dangerous to
the patient and also avoid doing unnecessarybiopsies."
Grichnik emphasizes that high-risk individuals should be actively involved in mole monitoring.
"Keep an eye
on your moles," he says. "It's much more likely that between the
patient and the physician, if a melanoma develops, they'll be able to
get it early and in a more curable timeframe."
people can also help prevent mole development in children by keeping
them out of the midday sun and by always using sun block and other
protective agents. For those individuals at higher risk, he also
recommends a monthly self-examination.
For more information about preventing and treating melanomas, visit the American Academy of Dermatology Web site at www.skincarephysicians.com/melanomanet/index.html