Mole mapping: what to expect

Written by: Dr Ben Esdaile
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

Firstly, let’s talk about what mole mapping is. Mole mapping is a process of examining and documenting your skin and individual moles over time to help detect changes in moles as early as possible.

The best mole mapping procedure is a combination of both full body digital photography and dermoscopy.  Dermoscopy is a non-invasive skin surface examination using a microscope that allows skin structures to be magnified that are not normally seen with the naked eye. Dermoscopy allows visualisation of the early subtle changes in skin cancer.

The aim of mole mapping is to detect skin cancer as early as possible. Dermatologist Dr Ben Esdaile gives us the ins and outs of mole mapping and how to know if a mole is harmless or potentially a cause for concern.  

What should I expect from the mole mapping procedure?

The mole mapping procedure is relatively simple and takes around 30 minutes. The procedure is completely painless and involves being photographed using a special camera and dermoscopic lens.

Your entire skin is photographed by an automated computer that creates a map of your entire body. Any unusual moles are monitored additionally with a dermatoscope. This is a hand-held, high-quality magnifying lens that takes high-resolution photos. At the end of the procedure, you will be provided with an encrypted USB stick of your photographs.

When you return for further mole mapping in the future the computer will use artificial intelligence to detect any new or changing moles. The dermoscopic images can also look for any changes in any unusual moles.

What does a cancerous mole look like?

Sometimes melanomas can be obvious and stand out from all other moles. These types of melanoma fulfil the ‘ABCDE criteria’:

  • Asymmetrical shape, such as two halves of the mole taking on a different shape
  • Irregular border; the mole has a ‘notched’ outline
  • Colour change; the mole has uneven colours or multiple colours
  • Diameter; the mole is bigger than 6 millimetres
  • Evolving; the mole changes over time, evolving in size, colour and shape

The problem is that many melanomas can mimic normal moles and do not fulfil the ABCDE criteria. Dermoscopy can be very helpful in picking up the more subtle melanomas.

When should I get a mole checked by a doctor?

It’s important to regularly check your skin for suspicious moles and report anything unusual to your doctor. Remember the ABCDE rule: asymmetry (one half of the mole doesn’t match the other), border irregularity, colour that is not uniform and a diameter greater than 6 mm or evolution of colour, shape and size over time.

Is mole mapping worth it?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide and rates in the UK continue to rise. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and can be difficult to detect. Melanomas arise mostly on normal skin but they can also arise in existing moles.

More on melanoma

Automated total body mapping and dermoscopy are worth it for two main reasons:

  • it allows for early detection of skin cancer
  • it reduces the unnecessary removal of moles

If you have moles, remember to check them regularly and if you notice a change in an already existing mole, have it checked by a dermatologist like Dr Ben Esdaile.

Source: Article based on the professional experience of the doctor
Dermatology in London

By Dr Ben Esdaile

Dr Ben Esdaile is a prominent London dermatologist specialising in both adult and paediatric dermatology. He has a particular interest in the early diagnosis and surgery of skin cancer and lectures both nationally and internationally on dermoscopy (a tool used to detect skin cancer). He also has a special interest in psoriasis, eczema, acne and rosacea.

Dr Esdaile undertook his medical training at Imperial College London and qualified with distinction in medicine and surgery in 2003. Prior to this, he successfully completed a BSc in biochemistry at King's College London in 1998. The esteemed dermatologist would then go on to obtain two notable achievements: gaining his diploma from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (DRCOG) in 2008, as well as his Dermatology Specialty Certificate Examination, which he successfully completed in 2010. 

Dr Esdaile, who also possesses a high level of expertise in sun allergies, vitligo, warts, angioma, cellulitis, and atopic dermatitis, pursued and completed his specialist training in dermatology in Oxford. He has a full-time NHS consultant post at the Whittington Hospital in North London and is involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. He has published in multiple peer-review journals and has won an NHS clinical excellence award. He also works privately at the Highgate Hospital, Chase Lodge Hospital and at Skin 55 on Harley Street.

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