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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Photos Help People Keep Eye on Skin Moles

Digital Photos Help Patients Spot Potentially Cancerous Moles on Skin
WebMD Health News

Jan. 20, 2004 -- A picture may be worth more than a thousand words; one might also save your life. A new study shows that giving people a picture of their moles helps them spot potentially dangerous changes that may be an early sign of skin cancer.

Pigmented moles that change in shape or have irregular borders, known as atypical nevi, are a major risk factor for melanoma, the least common but most deadly form of skin cancer. The odds of survival, however, improve greatly when these changes are identified early and followed by prompt treatment.

But spotting changes in people with many moles can be difficult, and periodic skin self-examinations are recommended.

Photos Offer Reference Point for Moles

In this study, published in the January issue of the Archives of Dermatology, researchers looked at whether providing patients with pictures of their moles would improve their accuracy in spotting potentially dangerous changes in the appearance of their moles.

Researchers took digital photographs of the back, chest, and abdomen of 50 adults with five or more atypical nevi and gave those photographs to the patients. They then changed the appearance of existing moles and created new ones using a cosmetic eyeliner pencil that matched the mole color. The new and altered moles totaled about 10% of each patient's total mole count.

The participants were blindfolded during the altering process, and researchers also used a colorless pencil to pretend to alter moles so the patients would be not be aware of which moles were altered.

When the participants performed skin self-examinations after the altering process, researchers found that those using the digital photographs as a reference point were better able to identify new or changed moles. Patients who used the photos correctly identified 72.4% of new or altered moles versus a 60.2% accuracy rate among those who didn't use photos.

"Providing patients with photographs may encourage patients to more carefully monitor their lesions and may enable patients to better detect suspicious changes in their lesions," write researcher Susan Oliveria, ScD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and colleagues.

Researchers say the next step would be to show if this improvement in skin self-examination accuracy might eventually lead to a reduction in melanoma risks.

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