Then the experience of two different friends gave me a head’s up about ways to get a better head-to-toe scan. My friend Leslie, who has a lot of “beauty marks,” lives near the Millburn location of MoleSafe and had gotten full body scans and "mole mapping" for herself and even her children. (I found out that skin cancers are on the rise among kids – especially teenage girls who have been allowed to use tanning salons.)
(I cringe when I think of us using those sunlamps as kids.)
I was thinking about checking out the place and then I bumped into my friend Carol, who had just gotten back from a follow up exam since her bout with melanoma a few years ago. Her cancer had actually been spotted by a woman standing behind her on a ticket line. Carol had had a sleeveless shirt on, and a woman tapped her on the shoulder and said, “pardon me for intruding, but has anyone ever checked out the mole on the back of your arm?...” Carol was vaguely aware of it, but it wasn’t in a place she could easily see. She decided to see the doctor…and a surgery with 16 stitches inside and 16 stitches outside basically saved her life the next week.
That was enough coincidence to send me to MoleSafe to see for myself…and have someone see ME better than I could myself! I spoke to Dr. Richard Bezozo, who invited me in so I could help share the experience with my readers. Bascially, MoleSafe is a three-prong protocol for screening: “Total Body Photography, total digital dermoscopy and digital sequential monitoring.” Apparently, that’s the gold standard for screenings that most dermatologists in the rest of the world recommend. We’re behind the curve in the good old US of A for being progressive in prevention. And it’s not like this is an invasive protocol.
Anyway, here's what happens: First, the place is clean, nice, and comfortable (and right near the train from NY.) You get down to your skivvies (you can keep a paper gown on, but I figured mole mapping is once a year and very important, so might as well go for the semi-full monty.) The exam room has a mat that looks like something from an old-fahioned dance less (or these days like a Dance Mat from Wii!)
My very reassuring nurse/“moleographer” had me take a stance with my feet in the position indicated on the mat with hands akimbo (I think that means hands on hip? but I always wanted to be able to use that word in a blog). She took a set of images that way, then a set of images on the otherside, feet in the opposite position.
Then we sat down at her desk while she uploaded the super high res images, then coordinated the pictures to points on a computer image of a body. It was like creating a constellation on paper. I could immediately understand how the consistency of taking the same position on the mat year after year is a lot more efficient than random poses and “eyeballing” things. My molegrapher then carefully did a visual exam of moles that caught her eye and captured those with a dermatoscope – it’s a super magnifying camera with a special light that really shows details of specific moles. She uploaded those images, also correlated on the computer to the ones she’d marked on the figure.
It was fascinating to see super enlargements of my skin on the computer. You might find out that there are some that are “interesting” – and might be reassured about others…but all of them are sent electronically (yes, safe and encrypted) to a sort of radiologist/dermatologist who reviews the dermatascope images professionally. You get a lovely CD of your body mole images to take home and give to your dermatologist. Then, a week or two later you have a report from the specialist sent to you.
The thing is, MoleSafe doesn’t do any surgeries or removals, so dermatologists are still involved in the whole process. I guess It’s like sending a person for an MRI and having then having them come back to the doctor to get treated for the broken leg or tumor or whatever. We need to be our own patient advocates and seek out MoleSafe on our own…or bring it to the attention of our doctors. You can go get one without a referral, and some insurance will cover it when you submit the receipt for reimbursement. Some won’t. But it’s an investment in your life compared to the approach most dermatologists have been using for the past 50 years.
So, I recommend you get on board. Or, get on mat, I guess.
PS: The good news is that I am a-okay, but have a much better sense of what to look for, where to look for it, and why.
PSS: MoleSafe is opening at NYU on 2/3. That should be the eye-opener a lot of people need about the value and legitimacy of this kind of protocol.