Illustrated by Caitlin Owens.
Alright, I know that on the list of things you wanted to read about today, melanoma probably wasn't at the top of said list. ("Ooh, skin cancer! Just what I was looking to read about as I while away my lunch hour.") However, with melanoma rates rising almost 800% in women and 400% in men (according to the most recent stats from the Skin Cancer Foundation), now more than ever is the time to get your skin checked and monitor those moles.
That's all well and good, but skin-cancer checks can be an intimidating experience. This is due to the fact that if something suspicious is uncovered, it usually means a biopsy, followed by weeks of waiting to hear back on whether the sample was carcinogenic or not. A new technology on the market is changing all that: MelaFind is a diagnostic tool that uses colored light and advanced technology to allow dermatologists to see below the skin's surface and get information about the growth pattern of moles below the surface of the skin.
What does that mean? It means that during your skin check, if your doctor comes across a suspicious mole, instead of having to do a biopsy, they can take a photo of the mole, analyze it on the spot, and then decide if the mole is indeed something that needs to be biopsied or is harmless. In short, it minimizes unnecessary biopsies and takes a lot of the anxiety out of the skin screening process. Eager to see this device in action, I decided to undergo a skin check using the MelaFind.
Keep clicking to get the real deal on what goes down at a skin-cancer check.
Illustrated by Caitlin Owens.
As a fair, freckled, light-haired, prone-to-burning Irish girl, I know that I am at a heightened risk for skin cancer. While I am diligent with my SPF protection, I've never actually had my skin checked by a dermatologist. I know, I know: #beautyeditorfail. But, the whole process seemed time-consuming and a bit scary to me. What if they actually did find something? I'm a worst-case-scenario kind of girl, so I had visions of biopsies running through my head. The week before my appointment, I kept looking at my numerous moles and thinking, "You're going to give me skin cancer, aren't you?"
When I arrived for my appointment with Dr. Julie Russak at Russak Dermatology in Manhattan, I was a nervous wreck. Dr. Russak helped calm me down, then instructed me to strip down to my skivvies so she could thoroughly check my whole body. She started by scanning my skin using a polarized light,which she explained helped her to better reveal the specific structure of the moles. She was beyond thorough, checking every inch of my skin — even the soles of my feet. As she checked my skin, she circled one mole on my back that looked suspicious to her.
Now, if we were not using the MelaFind, the usual process for that one mole would have been to biopsy it and send it away to a lab. Instead, Dr. Russak took the MelaFind handset and placed it over the mole to take a picture. We watched as the mole appeared on the screen and Dr. Russak explained that we were seeing pictures of it beneath my skin's surface. What this revealed to her was that the abnormality she was seeing was actually due to the mole being on top of a hair follicle. Whew.
Dr. Russak explained that the MelaFind would store this picture in its system so when I came back a year later for my annual screening, she would take another photo and we could track any changes. This is a key point because it helps doctors identify and treat a melanoma when it is in its most curable stage.
Now for the fine print: The MelaFind can only be administered by a doctor and it does not take the place of a skin check. It is still in limited use, so only select doctors have one. Because it is supplemental, there is an additional fee to use the MelaFind and it may not be covered by your insurance. On average, the cost of using the MelaFind is about $150.
That said, anyone who has skin cancer in their family, has a prior history of melanoma, or fits the profile of extremely at-risk can really benefit from this device. Because it tracks the moles over time, it is an invaluable tool in catching melanomas early. Not to mention the fact that it cuts down on the amount of pointless biopsies you may need to undergo. If taking care of your skin is important to you — and, let's be honest, it should be — I definitely think this new tool is worth the extra $$$.
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