Mole mapping, also called full body photography or total body mapping, is the process of taking photos of your entire body to record the position of moles and other spots. People with many moles should have this process repeated periodically as a way of checking for new or changing spots they might not have otherwise noticed. Note that the mole mapping process is not the same as a full body skin examination, where a doctor examines and diagnoses your spots.
You can have mole mapping performed:
- as an independent procedure (e.g. if your skin has already been examined by another doctor who recommended you have mole mapping performed)
- in conjunction with a medical examination of your whole skin or a single spot of concern
For people with relatively few moles, or with severely sun-damaged skin, mole mapping may not be a highly effective way of checking your skin for changes. Your Spot Check doctor can advise how suitable mole mapping is for your skin type.
At Spot Check, your mole mapping photographs are examined and analysed by a doctor while you are in the clinic. We use DermEngine software to analyse differences between sequential photos of body regions, increasing the detection rate of new and changing spots.
How Mole Mapping Can Assist in Melanoma Detection
Most early melanomas usually tend to spread outwards on the surface of the skin before they grow deeper and spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma diagnosed in this early stage (less than 1mm thick at the time of removal) has a survival rate of close to 100 per cent.
If you have many moles, it can be hard to keep track of which ones are new or changing — and this is a problem because identifying a changing mole could lead to an early diagnosis of treatable melanoma. Mole mapping can help identify changes in your spots, and can work as an extra way of pinpointing which of your spots or moles might need closer examination or removal.
Research studies have shown that mole mapping is associated with early melanoma detection in people at high risk of melanoma. The Cancer Council Australia recommends that mole mapping be considered as a method of recording a baseline and checking for changes in such people.1
Should I Consider Mole Mapping?
Mole mapping is most useful in:
- People at high risk of melanoma
- People with many (over 100) moles
- People with moles that are distinct from the underlying skin
If your skin has few moles, you might be able to identify suspicious changes without undergoing mole mapping.
If your skin has so many freckles, seborrhoeic keratoses or other coloured spots that it's hard to tell them apart, mole mapping might not be so useful for you. It works best if the moles stand out against the background of your skin.
If you are considering mole mapping, it's often best to discuss the benefits with a doctor to decide how useful it will be for you.
The Mole Mapping Procedure
You can have mole mapping as part of a full body skin cancer check-up, or we can perform it as a standalone service, for example if your dermatologist has recommended it.
- The mole mapping process usually takes 15 - 20 minutes
- Your doctor will ask you to undress to your underwear and then put on a dressing gown.
- Starting with your head and working systematically from top to bottom, front and back, left and right, the doctor or a nurse will take a series of about 20 photos of your whole body, one section at a time.
- You will need to remove the dressing gown for some of these photos to be taken. You can continue to wear your underwear, although if you have many spots on your back or breasts, you may prefer to remove your bra. Likewise, if there are many spots on your buttocks, you can briefly drop your underwear so they can be photographed.
- In some cases, there might just be one or two areas of your body with many moles that you can't keep track of, for example on your back. In this case, you may just have photos taken of those specific areas of interest.
- At future mole mapping visits, the same series of photographs will be repeated
- Your doctor will compare your photos to see if there are any changes since last time you were photographed. To assist this process, Spot Check uses a digital analytics system which automatically identifies new and changing spots and highlights them. This happens while you are still at Spot Check so you will know as soon as possible if there are any changes of concern.
- Your doctor will closely examine any identified new or changing spots to check for any evidence of skin cancer.
See our Pricing page for details of total body mapping costs and discount eligibility. Note that some private health insurers cover the cost of mole mapping. Eligibility varies between insurers and policies. We recommend that you check with your insurer for further information. Unfortunately there is no Medicare rebate for total body mapping photography.
How to Prepare
Mole mapping works best if your skin is clear and the moles are easy to see from a distance. If you are very hairy, you may wish to consider shaving or waxing before your appointment.
The digital mole analytics system detects spots, which includes spots on underwear. We recommend you wear plain, single-colour, non-patterned underwear to maximise the probability of accurate analysis.
If you are intending to have a general skin check, please refer to the tips on our How to Prepare page.
- 1. Cancer Council Australia and Australian Cancer Network, Sydney and New Zealand Guidelines Group. Clinical Practice Guidelines of the Management of Melanoma in Australian and New Zealand. Wellington: Australian Cancer Network Melanoma Guidelines Revision Working Party; 2008 Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/cp111.pdf