Photos Help People Keep Eye on Skin Moles
Digital Photos Help Patients Spot Potentially Cancerous Moles on Skin
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
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
"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
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.