scorecardDermatologists found the 'world's smallest skin cancer' under a woman's eye — it was smaller than the tip of a pen
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Dermatologists found the 'world's smallest skin cancer' under a woman's eye — it was smaller than the tip of a pen

Julia Pugachevsky   

Dermatologists found the 'world's smallest skin cancer' under a woman's eye — it was smaller than the tip of a pen
LifeScience2 min read
  • A woman saw a dermatologist for a small spot on her cheek that she was worried about for years.
  • The dermatologist and his team used imaging tools and a biopsy to diagnose her with early melanoma.

During COVID, Christy Staats grew more concerned about a faint red dot under her eye, one that had been there for several years.

"I have a magnifying mirror in my bathroom and noticed the spot I was worried about was way bigger and had a 'leg' on it," she said in a press release from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). "I set up an appointment to get it looked at."

While that spot was benign, during her examination Staats' dermatologist noticed another tiny spot nearby: One that was smaller than the tip of a fine ballpoint pen, and almost invisible to the human eye.

The 0.65 mm mark that he spotted turned out to be a "micro" version of melanoma, considered the deadliest skin cancer because it can spread to other organs. The discovery and diagnosis earned her team of dermatologists a Guinness World Record in early January for detecting the world's smallest skin cancer.

After she was dismissed by several doctors, one took a closer look

Staats had seen several dermatologists over the years, all of whom said she had nothing to worry about. But when Staats saw Dr. Alexander Witkowski, an assistant professor of dermatology at the OHSU School of Medicine, he thought the barely-visible dot that he spotted deserved some extra testing.

Using a smartphone attachment, Witkowski took a photo of the spot and conducted a virtual biopsy. He used imaging technology that allowed him to closely zoom in on the area without having to surgically remove the lesion, according to the press release.

He found atypical cells associated with melanoma and told Staats right there that "this could be the smallest skin cancer ever detected," the press release said.

To confirm his findings, he took a physical biopsy and his team used pathology and molecular testing to diagnose Staats with the earliest stage of melanoma, also known as melanoma in situ.

Spotting melanoma early can be lifesaving

Staats said she was "lucky" to have had the cancer diagnosed using new technology that made detection easier.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 97,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2023. At the same time, a recent survey from the American Academy of Dermatology found that the majority of Americans aren't concerned about developing skin cancer.

Early diagnosis is crucial for melanoma it can simplify treatment and prevent the cancer from spreading. Earlier stages are typically treated by removing the lesion, while treating later-stage melanomas that have spread can involve lymph node removal and immunotherapy, and a higher risk of death.

For Staats, the experience was a good reminder of how important skin screenings are. "You have to stay on top of it and get new things checked out!" she said in the press release, especially if you have any concerns — however small they seem.




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