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'Dermatoscope' Can Identify Skin Cancer Without Scarring Biopsy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Every year, nearly 5.5-million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. and even more surgical biopsies have to be performed to tell if a mole is cancerous.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, a simple device can often identify a skin cancer in seconds.

Skin cancer can be sneaky -- innocent looking freckles or moles can sometimes be cancerous and can fool even experienced dermatologists.

"I produce lots of moles all over my body," Mia Brill said.

Brill is what doctors call a mole maker. It's party genetic -- her grandmother had melanoma in her 20s -- and it's partly because Mia grew up on the beaches of south Florida.

"I've had at least five biopsies, moles they wanted to check, and I've had four moles that were precancerous that they had to fully remove," she said.

Not surprisingly, that's left Mia with scars she'd rather avoid, as long as she knows the moles and freckles are benign, which is not always easy to tell.

"Just by looking at a mole it can be hard to determine if it's suspicious or benign. Most of the time when a mole looks unusual we have to do a biopsy, and if they have a lot of moles we have to do a lot of biopsies," Dr. Bruce Katz explained.

Now, dermatologists have a device called a dermatoscope that tells the doctor a lot more about a mole or freckle than what can be seen with the naked eye.

"A dermatoscope uses polar light and a special ens that we can really look, not just on the surface, but a little below and see what kind of pigment areas and also the distribution of the pigment," he said.

A common looking freckle with mottled pigmentation means a pre-cancerous mole -- biopsy required.

A similar looking spot on the hand looks very different under the scope, diagnosis; actinic keratosis, no biopsy, just freezing off with liquid nitrogen.

Another looked like a pimple on the nose, biopsy and excision.

The bottom line is, the device can save people from having biopsies that are unnecessary.

"I do not like scars, not fun to have a million scars all over your body," Brill said.

The dermatoscope won't prevent all biopsies. It can divide moles into benign, suspicious, and malignant.

Malignant ones get biopsies, suspicious ones might get biopsied or sometimes just observed for a little while to see if they change, so the scope still avoids a lot of cutting.


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