I have many moles, do I need to check each for melanoma?

May 19, 2014

It is important that patients with many abnormal moles have a thorough evaluation by a dermatologist since some moles can be precursors to skin cancer.

Unique to UCI Health is the pigmented lesion program that monitors those who are at high-risk of dermatological cancers.  It is the first program in Orange County to include research, training and patient care related to suspicious moles and lesions.

The UCI Health Melanoma Center is the only medical facility in California currently using dermoscopy and the SIAscope for melanoma detection. This painless imaging device can help decrease the number of biopsies needed for patients with numerous atypical moles. The noninvasive scope takes high-resolution images of each mole’s spectral absorption pattern. Current and subsequent scans flag pattern changes letting doctors monitor multiple lesions concurrently.

For melanoma treatment, leading-edge therapies include Mohs micrographic surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Dr. James Jakowatz, surgical oncologist and the center's director, was the first physician in Orange County to incorporate sentinel lymph node mapping to determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

This procedure involves removing one to three lymph nodes rather than a more radical surgery dissection to remove lymph nodes in either the groin or armpit areas. If no disease is found in the sentinel node(s), no further dissection is needed.

“Melanoma is always most curable when caught in the earliest stages,” says Jakowatz.  “However, once it spreads to other parts of the body, it is much harder to treat and less curable.”

The Melanoma Center, part of the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, takes a multidisciplinary approach to identify and treat skin cancer. The team includes dermatologists, surgical and medical oncologists, plastic surgeons, nurses and case managers. Many of the highly-trained specialists are involved in clinical trials with the National Cancer Institute.

To lower your risk of skin cancer, it’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays, Jakowatz says. You can still enjoy the outdoors, just take precautions. Wear sunscreen, protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. 

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. UCI Health wants to improve your chances of living a long and healthy life — know your risks and get checked out.