Screening for Melanoma

Memorial Sloan Kettering experts discuss skin cancer risk factors, and explain how to prevent and identify skin cancers, including melanoma.

Our doctors don’t recommend routine skin cancer screening, but because melanoma is a serious, sometimes deadly disease, early detection and treatment is very important.

We recommend that you get specialized follow-ups if you have any of the following:

  • a family history of melanoma in two or more blood relatives
  • many atypical moles
  • many precancerous lesions, gray- to pink-colored scaly patches of skin on sun-exposed areas of the body (called actinic keratoses)

If you’re not sure if any of these conditions apply to you, check with your doctor.

We also advise that everyone who’s had melanoma to watch for suspicious changes or new moles or lesions.

3 -D Total Body Photography

Our researchers are always working to find new ways to detect cancer. One of the advances pioneered by MSK is 3-D total-body photography, which uses a system of more than 40 cameras to take photos of the entire body and turn them into a 3-D model that can be viewed on a computer.

Daphne Demas is a senior medical photographer

Daphne Demas is a senior medical photographer whose work helps screen patients for melanoma — and spare them unnecessary skin biopsies.

Doctors can see every mole or spot on a patient’s body and even zoom in to get a closer look. The scan takes much less time than traditional photography — just eight minutes for a full session, versus more than an hour for the 2-D version — and patients can take their images home to use as a reference.

The dermatologist can also perform a test called dermoscopy while you’re in the office and link any findings to the 3-D images. Dermoscopy uses a special magnifying lens and a light to study the features of specific moles or lesions below the surface of the skin.

These tests allow your doctor to spot changes in your skin or new moles or lesions at the very earliest stages, when they are thin and easier to remove. Using detection tools like these also lessens the likelihood that you’ll need biopsies, in which tissue is removed for testing, on benign (noncancerous) skin lesions.