By magnifying the lesion , it extends the ability of the human eye to identify melanoma , says Dr. Albert Lefkovits , an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York
During a traditional exam , when a doctor finds a suspicious-looking mole -- one in which the border , shape , color or texture is unusual -- the patient is often advised to have the mole surgically removed to check for cancer.
That recommendation , however , can be impractical for people with a condition called dysplastic nevi , which means they have a lot of atypical moles , says Lefkovits
The traditional way , in the hands of an experienced physician , is still pretty good , he
says.However , if you're going to try to pick up every melanoma , you're going to end up doing biopsies on a lot of benign lesions..
Removal of moles during biopsies can also leave scarring.
Digital microscopy can help a doctor refine the exam so that noncancerous moles aren't removed unnecessarily , he
says.It can also help a doctor better identify moles that could be cancerous.
It can show details and small changes in what would have looked like a benign lesion , says Lefkovits
A 1995 study of digital epiluminescence microscopy found that the tool increased a doctor's ability to accurately diagnose melanoma by 10%--but this was only true for doctors who were trained and experienced in using the technology.
Obtaining digital images of skin lesions also allows doctors to easily send the images to colleagues for second opinions , says Lefkovits
Digital microscopy isn't cheap , however.Examinations average from $200 to $400 , depending on the number of moles a person has.Health insurers may not cover the exam , which typically takes about 45 minutes.Some experts believe that more insurers will embrace the technology once the evidence is stronger of its ability to detect cancer earlier , and thus reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies.