Mole mapping is a painless, noninvasive approach to help detect melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer. It involves using digital photography to track changes in moles, which can be an early sign of melanoma.

Early detection is important because melanoma is very treatable in its early stages. At the University of Chicago Medicine, our expert dermatologists are often able to perform a biopsy of a suspicious mole on the same day as mole mapping. During a biopsy, a small piece of the mole is removed and examined under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.

Who Is at Risk?

Mole mapping may be recommended for people who have a higher risk of melanoma, including those with: 

  • A mole that is larger than a nickel
  • An atypical mole called a dysplastic nevus, which may have an irregular shape or an uneven color
  • More than 50 moles
  • Fair skin and light-colored eyes
  • A family or personal history of melanoma
  • A history of severe sunburns
  • New or changing moles
  • A weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, cancer, chemotherapy or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

What to Expect

During the first session, a member of our skin care team will take up to 20 digital photos of your entire skin surface. Then the dermatologist will look for any suspicious moles that should be monitored more closely. A microscopic photograph is taken of these moles, which are then "mapped" to the photos. All of the photographs are stored in a secure database so they can be reviewed for changes at your next visit, which is usually scheduled for six to 12 months later. 

If your dermatologist discovers a change in a mole, it could be an early sign of melanoma. They will perform a biopsy to determine if melanoma is present.

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