(NEW YORK) — Doctors in Oregon recently set a Guinness World Record for discovering a spot of skin cancer that measured just 0.025 inches.
The spot of skin cancer was found on the face of Christy Staats, who said she made a dermatology appointment two years ago to have a different spot on her cheek examined.
The spot on her cheek turned out to be a benign skin growth, but her dermatologist, Alexander Witkowski, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of dermatology at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, noticed another miniscule spot of concern on her face.
“He looked four or five times, just looking really closely from every angle, and told me that he thought I had the smallest melanoma in the world,” Staats, of Portland, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “So that’s how it got found.”
Witkowski told GMA that he was able to use a high-tech tool, called a confocal microscope, to detect the cancer quickly. He said the spot, located on Staats’ right cheek, was about the size of the tip of a pencil.
“I noticed this very tiny speckle, and so that’s when we applied the confocal microscope, the virtual biopsy, and that tool allowed me to see down to one cell and one nucleus,” Witkowski said. “So what I saw were very clear, distinct, atypical cells that are associated with melanoma skin cancer.”
He continued, “When I saw those, that’s when I made the comment to Christy, that ‘you’ll think I’m crazy, but I think this is the smallest skin cancer ever detected to date.'”
Staats was diagnosed with Stage 0 melanoma in July 2021. Because the cancer was caught so quickly, Staats was able to have all of it removed and did not have to undergo any further treatment.
“I was in the right place at the right time with the right technology,” Staats said. “I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t gone in and had the opportunity to have it looked at using the confocal imaging. I was just a very lucky individual.”
This month, nearly two years after her diagnosis and after many rounds of verification, Witkowski and Dr. Joanna Ludzik — his wife and colleague who worked with him on the diagnosis — were recognized with a Guinness World Record for the “smallest skin cancer detected.”
“This was a team effort,” Witkowski said of the honor. “But more importantly, this achievement for our group allows us to start a national conversation and get the word out that skin cancer does affect a lot of Americans.”
It’s estimated that more than one million Americans are currently living with melanoma, a rare form of skin cancer in which cancer cells form in melanocytes, the cells that color the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Cancer Institute.
Melanoma is both an aggressive form of skin cancer and one that can spread throughout the body, according to Witkowski, who said that is why early detection is so key.
“With a late diagnosis in melanoma … I like to call it falling through the cracks, because we have this technology,” Witkowski said. “The solution is just the widespread implementation of these type of precise tools, not only in our offices, but across the United States.”
Ludzik added that when technology is available to detect melanoma early, the results can be lifesaving.
“All of the melanomas that we can find early are stage 0 or sometimes stage 1 melanomas,” she said. “And because of the early detection and treatment, we know that the survival [rate] of our patients is up to 99%.”
Both Ludzik and Witkowski said that it’s also key for people to pay attention to their own skin and reach out to their healthcare provider when they notice any type of change.
“The power is in the patient’s hands, because … skin cancers are [often] identified first by the patient, or their family member, their partner, friend or co-worker,” Witkowski said. “That means that a lay person or a public person, before they become a patient, are worried about something because it’s different, it has changed or evolved, and then they asked a question.”
He continued, “That’s where the power is, that if you think something is changing or different or stands out from the rest, ask your primary care doctor or ask your dermatologist so that an expert can evaluate it.”
Both Ludzik and Witkowski also stressed that people should know the ” ABCDEs of melanoma,” which include evaluating the characteristics of a mole for the following:
–Color of the area.
–Diameter of the mole.
–Evolving size of the area in question.
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