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Mole Mapping: What it is and Why You Should Be Mapped

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Mole Mapping: What it is and Why You Should Be Mapped

Aug 01, 2018

If you are at risk for skin cancer, you'd want to take every precaution to prevent melanoma. Mole mapping is an excellent tool to detect skin conditions earlier. Dermatologist Dr. Julia Curtis explains mole mapping, what you can expect during the procedure and why this short, painless scan could save your life.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Health information from experts, supported by research from University of Utah Health. This is

Interviewer: How mole mapping works and how to determine if you should do it. Dr. Julia Curtis is a board certified dermatologist in the Department of Dermatology at University of Utah Health. Let's start with the very first question. Who do you recommend that gets mole mapping done? Like what patients are better than others to do that?

Dr. Curtis: So, generally, what I tell patients is if they have a lot of moles, they should get mole mapped, or if they even have a lot of funny looking moles to them. They might not have a ton, but at the same time, they still might have enough that they are curious about them and they're hard to track, if they're hard to know if they're new or changing.

Interviewer: Let's talk about the benefits of having this procedure done because there are a lot of them. First and foremost, it can save lives.

Dr. Curtis: Yes, it can. It can save lives in the way that we can find melanoma earlier and thinner when it is the absolute most survivable.

Interviewer: And what are some of the other benefits as well?

Dr. Curtis: So you can catch new moles that could be just benign, not changing, that are not melanoma, which are important to know about. You can also tell if your moles are going away. As you get older some of your moles do go away and it can track that. So it gives you peace of mind. And it can reduce the number of biopsies as well on patients.

Interviewer: So that's a good thing, right? It's a lot better to have a picture taken then actually need to do biopsies . . .

Dr. Curtis: Yes.

Interviewer: . . . and less expensive too I'd imagine.

Dr. Curtis: Exactly.

Interviewer: Yeah, to have that kind of testing done. And I would imagine does it prevent like mistreatment as well?

Dr. Curtis: So it can in the sense that you do meet some patients who've had a dermatologist or primary care take a lot of their moles off and it can prevent that.

Interviewer: When you come in to have the procedure done, how exactly does it work?

Dr. Curtis: So first you meet with me and we go over your moles and talk about mole mapping, and then you go to our room, which is a very private room with one other person, and there is a camera on an automated track, and the camera goes up and down and you just stand in front of it for a front-side side and back and the attendant stands behind a big flash panel. So you feel like there is privacy there.

Interviewer: Yeah, because I would imagine some people are a little . . . first of all, they probably picture somebody with old-school Nikon camera snapping away, right? It's not that at all.

Dr. Curtis: It is not that anymore.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Curtis: And it is . . . it can be intimidating to stand there naked, but again we . . . you know, we protect patients' modesty. If they feel more comfortable leaving their underwear on, they can do that.

Interviewer: And you try to work around.

Dr. Curtis: And try to work around, exactly.

Interviewer: Yeah, exactly. And how often then, after you get that initial mapping, do you need to remap?

Dr. Curtis: So, generally, we don't remap patients because we don't want a moving baseline. So we want to establish just one baseline going forward in time and so that you don't have to be re-imaged. Occasionally, we may decide that there are so many different moles now or new moles that it would benefit the patient.

Interviewer: All right, and what do we know about mole mapping's effectiveness and its accuracy? Does it really make a difference?

Dr. Curtis: It does. So we've published research showing that it catches melanoma thinner and earlier at a much higher survival rate. For example, melanoma caught early has about a 98%, 99% survival rate of 5 years, whereas if you catch it a little bit later, that rate plummets to 60% at times.

Interviewer: And from a physician's standpoint that's pretty significant.

Dr. Curtis: Very significant.

Interviewer: Very significant but worth the effort.

Dr. Curtis: Definitely worth the effort . . .

Interviewer: And the time.

Dr. Curtis: . . . and the time.

Interviewer: Yeah, and maybe . . .

Dr. Curtis: And some embarrassment, maybe.

Interviewer: Yeah. A little bit embarrassment. Sure, yeah. So is this a procedure that can be done most anywhere, or is it just a select few places?

Dr. Curtis: So it's just a select few places to have this integrated automated system. So we have it at Huntsman and at our Murray location. And I don't know of any other providers in the Salt Lake basin that are doing it.

Interviewer: Got you. And in the region too, if somebody was in a smaller community, they would want to come here and get this . . .

Dr. Curtis: Correct. I have patients come down from Wyoming and Idaho and even Nevada.

Interviewer: And then a great thing about that is they have that map and they can return to their hometown and consult with their own dermatologists at that point. They don't have to keep coming here.

Dr. Curtis: Correct. We give them a password encrypted flash drive so that they can take it to their provider, whether it'd be a dermatologist or their primary care.

Interviewer: Yeah, that's great that's it's password encrypted because I would imagine some people will be a little anxious about having those type of photos available to everybody.

Dr. Curtis: Exactly.

Interviewer: And even as part of the medical record you don't put them in the medical record. But I don't know.

Dr. Curtis: Correct, they're not in the medical record. They're on a separate encrypted drive that only a few people have access to.

Interviewer: Got you. Is there anything else that a patient would want to know about this mole mapping procedure?

Dr. Curtis: It's short, it's painless, and it saves your lives.

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