Mole mapping is the process of taking a series of photographs to document the entire body surface, recording the location of moles and other skin lesions. The photos act as a reference for later comparison, to allow detection of new or changing skin lesions.

Total body mole mapping photography can enable earlier diagnosis of melanoma and reduce the number of unnecessary excision procedures.

With mole mapping (also known as total body photography, melanoma surveillance photography and skin surface imaging) we carefully examine and photograph your body to record the location and size of your moles. In future visits, the process is repeated, allowing us to precisely track changes. Our industry-leading system provides access to your images, allowing you to monitor any changes. You can even perform your own molemapping at home if you wish!

Frequently asked questions about mole mapping

What is mole mapping?

Mole mapping is not the same as a full body skin examination, where a doctor examines and diagnoses your spots but does not necessarily take comprehensive photographs.

We usually perform mole mapping at the same time as a full body skin examination. This ensures that you have:

  • all of your moles and skin lesions examined personally by an experienced skin cancer doctor, and
  • a set of photos of your entire body, documenting the location, size and other characteristics of each spot.

How is mole mapping different from a routine skin check?

At most skin cancer clinics or general practices, a skin check involves examination by a doctor or nurse using a dermoscope to closely examine moles and other spots and lumps on the skin. Depending on the doctor or clinic, they may photograph individual moles or spots of interest. Mole mapping is an extra step in addition to a skin examination.

At Spot Check Clinic, we can perform mole mapping:

What if a suspicious spot or mole is found?

Because mole mapping is normally performed in conjunction with a skin check performed by a doctor, we are able to diagnose your spots.

We can manage suspicious moles or spots and skin cancers during or soon after your mole mapping appointment at Spot Check Clinic.

In some cases, the doctor will be able to perform a small biopsy procedure on the same day. If your suspicious spot urgently requires a longer procedure, we can usually schedule it within the week.

Should I have mole mapping?

We suggest mole mapping for people who would like assistance in detecting new or changing spots — which might potentially be skin cancers — on all parts of their body. This includes people:

  • at high risk of melanoma
  • with many moles or other spots
  • who can't easily ask another person to look for unusual spots or changes in their skin
  • who want to have a baseline record of their skin on a given date, for future comparison when new or changing spots are suspected.

If you are in any of these groups, we recommend mole mapping in addition to a full body skin check by a skin cancer doctor or nurse.

For people with relatively few moles and low skin cancer risk, mole mapping may not be the most effective way of checking your skin for changes. Your Spot Check doctor can advise how suitable mole mapping is for your skin type.

How much does mole mapping cost and is it covered by Medicare?

At the time of writing, Mole Mapping costs $150 in addition to the cost of a full body skin check. Discounts are available to pensioners, health care card holders and children under 18. For more information, see our pricing page.

Medicare does not pay any rebate for mole mapping or other photography of skin cancers or lesions.

Do I get a copy of the photos?

Your photos are stored in MoleScope, a shared medical record accessible to you and the Spot Check Clinic team. You can view your photos using a web browser or the MoleScope app, which also allows you to photograph your own spots and upload them to the shared record.

If you wish, you can use the MoleScope app to take your own mole mapping photos and monitor them in future at no further cost to you.

There is a total body photography mode which shows you how to pose and what areas to photograph to replicate the photos we've taken at the clinic. You can then compare older and newer mole mapping photos side by side to see if there are any changes.

Does a doctor examine my moles?

At Spot Check Clinic Melbourne, If you've booked a full body skin check in conjunction with your mole mapping appointment, your skin will be examined by an experienced skin cancer doctor, who is able to diagnose and treat skin cancers, suspicious skin lesions and other signs of sun damaged skin.

How long does it take to receive results?

You don't need to wait to receive the "results" of your skin check and mole mapping. Because a doctor is performing your examination, they will inform you immediately if they notice any suspicious spots, lumps or likely skin cancers. We can manage almost all of these suspicious lesions in house at Spot Check Clinic.

If you prefer, you can have just molemapping photography without a medical examination or opinion. In this case, the doctor will not view your photographs. You will have access to all photos via the DermEngine/MoleScope system and you are free to show these to your own GP or dermatologist.

Which private health insurance funds cover mole mapping?

Several Australian private health insurers cover mole mapping, usually as part of their extras package. At the time of writing, we believe that mole mapping is covered by:

Open access funds:

  • AHM
  • CBHS Corporate Health
  • Frank Health Insurance
  • GMHBA Limited
  • Grand United Health (GU Health)
  • Health Care Insurance Limited (HCI)
  • Health Partners
  • Health.com.au
  • Mildura Health Fund
  • MyOwn Health (MO Health)
  • Onemedifund (National Health Benefits Australia)
  • PeopleCare Health Insurance
  • Phoenix Health Fund Limited
  • Queensland Country Health Fund
  • St. Lukes Health
  • Transport Health Pty Ltd

Restricted funds (catering only to employees within that particular industry and their immediate family members):

  • CHBS Health Fund Limited
  • Defence Health Limited
  • Doctors Health Limited
  • Nurses and Midwives Health
  • Reserve Bank Health Society
  • Teachers Health
  • TUH Health Fund (Teachers Union Health)

These details may have changed since the date of publication. Not all policies cover mole mapping. We recommend that you check with your insurer prior to your appointment.

How often should mole mapping be repeated?

For people at very high risk of melanoma, total body mole mapping photography should be performed every year. This includes people with many (hundreds) of moles over their whole body, people with a history of multiple melanomas, and people with multiple dysplastic moles.

People at lower risk require mole mapping less frequently; we usually suggest it every few years to keep up with changes in the skin.

Do I need a referral from my GP?

You don't need a referral for mole mapping or a skin check by a doctor at Spot Check Clinic.

Mole mapping at Spot Check Clinic

Most skin cancers are new, but sometimes they are pre-existing spots or lumps which have changed. In both cases, comparing a current suspicious spot against a photo take earlier can help us detect whether a lesion of concern is new or changing. This can enable earlier detection of melanoma and other skin cancer.

In areas that are hard to see, comparing a photo of the area with one taken earlier is a potential way of detecting changes the patient is not aware of.

On the other hand, sometimes mole mapping photos confirm that a spot of concern is unchanged compared with previous photos, and unnecessary biopsy or excision procedures can be avoided.

Spot Check Clinic, your mole mapping photographs are examined by a doctor while you are in the clinic. We use DermEngine mole mapping software to analyse differences between sequential photos of body regions, increasing the detection rate of new and changing spots.

Mole mapping software. Image courtesyof MetaOptima
Mole mapping software. Image courtesy of MetaOptima

How long does mole mapping take?

The mole mapping process involves taking a series of 28-30 photographs of your body. The first time takes about 20 minutes. With follow-up visits, 20 minutes is spent on retaking photo and then approximately 20 minutes comparing both sets of photographs for changes.

Mole mapping: What to expect

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.

  • 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 28 photos of your whole body, one section at a time.
Side, front and back views of a human silhouette showing the 28 regions that are photographed during mole mapping
Typical regions that are photographed and recorded with DermEngine software during mole mapping process.

Photographs are taken in these 28 regions.

  • You will need to remove your 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.
  • Our system can record where on your body your moles are located.
Moles from photograph of human back are mapped on a computer avatar back
Moles from photograph of human back are mapped onto a computer simulation with DermEngine software.
  • At future mole mapping visits, the same series of photographs will be repeated
  • Your doctor or nurse 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 Clinic so you will know as soon as possible if there are any changes of concern.
Software compares photographs of a human back taken at different times and identifies which moles have changed
Dermengine software compares photographs of a human back taken at different times and identifies which moles have changed.
  • Your doctor will closely examine any identified new or changing spots to check for any evidence of skin cancer.
A suspect mole is identified, located and a high resolution dermascope image is taken for future reference
A suspect mole is identified, located and a high resolution dermoscopic image is taken for future reference using DermEngine software.

How does mole mapping 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 percent.

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.

Benefits of mole mapping

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 (Kelly 2017).

How to prepare for mole mapping

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 increase the accuracy of analysis.

If you are intending to have a general skin check, please refer to the tips on our How to prepare for a full body skin cancer check page.

References

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