Having a few abnormal looking moles may be a better indicator of melanoma risk than having a large number of moles, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher Alan Geller. In examining 566 recently diagnosed melanoma patients, Geller and colleagues found that most had few moles and no unusual looking moles. However, among patients under 60, people with six or more atypical moles at diagnosis tended to have thicker melanomas. This indicates that their cancer had grown deeper into the skin and may be more deadly—and suggests that the way moles look remains important.

These findings show that people should not think that they are not at risk for melanoma because they have few moles, said Geller, who is a senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences. In a March 2, 2016 STAT article, he emphasized “the importance of everybody having a baseline skin exam and paying particular attention to unusual moles on the skin.”

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