A screening technology takes the fight against melanoma to a new frontier
Melanoma is a cancer of the skin that is diagnosed in over 50,000 people each year in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, melanoma is becoming more common every year, with the percentage of Americans who develop this cancer doubling in the past 30 years.
“Melanoma is a huge problem, and it can be deadly,” says Howard Zaren, MD, Medical Director of St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion (LCRP). “But if you take care of it early, when it’s local, it is highly treatable.”
A new screening technology called MoleSafe was designed to improve the ease and accuracy of diagnosing melanoma early by creating a digital record of a patient’s skin and their moles. The comprehensive screening process, known as mole-mapping, can take this digital record down to the microscopic level.
“MoleSafe is to skin cancer what mammography is to breast cancer,” says Dr. Zaren.
Dana Coleman, RN, and Brenda Rahal, LPN, are the LCRP’s first melanographers—both nurses have completed specialized training in the diagnostic and photographic technology used in the mole-mapping procedure.
“We have been given certain criteria for mapping and imaging the moles,” Coleman says. “We plot and assign each mole with a number and corresponding images, some of which are extremely high-resolution.”
“Ensuring optimum coverage and magnification of mole mapping is a three-step process,” Rahal explains. “The body is divided into quadrants according to the reference scale and marked. The patient is asked to stand in certain positions that will enable the melanographer to photograph the entire body's surface. Finally, each mole that meets the criteria is re-imaged with a camera that will give the dermatologist the information they need to diagnose or recommend treatment.”
Candidates for the mole-mapping procedure may be referred from the patient’s dermatologist or primary care physician. Coleman says that self-referral is also possible for patients who feel they are at risk. Melanoma risk factors can include such variables as the patient’s current age, the earliest age of sunburn, a family or personal history of melanoma or skin cancer, as well as skin type and light eyes and hair.
The melanographers will re-map the patient’s moles a year later to check for any changes in color or shape. The technology does not cause any discomfort to the patient.
Dr. Zaren is excited not only about mole-mapping, but also other developments that will take melanoma treatment further into the new frontier.
“We’re looking into technologies that will continue to help us screen for melanoma, diagnose early and treat responsibly,” Dr. Zaren says. “This is just the beginning.”