Link Between Many Moles, Melanoma Risk Questioned
Research suggests people with many of the blemishes not necessarily at higher risk for the cancer
By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, March 2, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- It's commonly thought that people with many moles may be at heightened risk for skin cancer, including melanoma. But a new study found that patients with melanoma skin cancer often had few moles, and no abnormal moles.
Of the 566 melanoma patients in the study, about 66 percent had zero to 20 moles in total and about 73 percent had no atypical moles, according to a team led by Alan Geller of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Melanoma thickness is an important factor in patient outcomes, since thicker tumors are more likely to spread. But in the new study, patients younger than 60 who had more than 50 moles in total actually had a lower risk of having a thick melanoma tumor.
However, people with more than five abnormal moles were more likely to have thick melanoma than those with no atypical moles, the researchers said.
The study was published online March 2 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
Speaking in a journal news release, Geller said that the study suggests that melanomas are actually found in people with fewer moles compared to those with many moles, so doctors shouldn't rely on mole count as "the sole reason to perform skin examinations or to determine a patient's at-risk status."
However, one skin cancer expert believes that moles may still be a good indicator of melanoma risk, and there may be a simple explanation for the new findings.
"People with lots of moles have been encouraged from an early age to have routine surveillance screenings by their dermatologists," and so any cancers they had were probably spotted early, said Dr. Katy Burris, a dermatologist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y.
"Patients with higher numbers of moles were found to have thinner melanomas upon diagnosis in this study," she added. That's at least partially explained "by the fact that their dermatologists are seeing them on a regular basis, and are therefore able to diagnose them at an earlier stage," Burris said.