Doctors detect world's smallest skin cancer in the US, enter Guinness record

"It was found before it had the opportunity to spread to other parts of the body."
Mrigakshi Dixit
Representational image.
Representational image.

Liudmila Chernetska/iStock 

Doctors have been able to detect the world's smallest skin cancer on a woman's cheek in Portland, Oregon. The cancerous 'spot' is only 0.025 inches (0.65 millimeters) long and barely visible to the naked eye.   

Following a thorough examination, a team of dermatologists at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) confirmed that this tiny spot on the cheek was, in fact, a melanoma — a type of skin cancer. 

With this confirmation, the OHSU team's "smallest detected skin cancer" has made its way to the Guinness World Record.

Doctors detect world's smallest skin cancer in the US, enter Guinness record
Joanna Ludzik, M.D., Ph.D., and Alexander Witkowski, M.D., Ph.D., receive official certification from Guinness World Records judge Andrew Glass as OHSU patient Christy Staats looks on.

How was the spot detected?

Confirming the micro-skin cancer was a difficult task for doctors, who used cutting-edge non-invasive technology to reach this conclusion.

They used dermoscopy (a technique for examining skin lesions) along with Reflectance Confocal Microscopy, which allows doctors to examine and diagnose skin lesions without cutting a patient's skin. They were able to confirm the cancer at an early stage using these techniques. “It was found before it had the opportunity to spread to other parts of the body,” said Alexander Witkowski, an assistant professor of dermatology at the OHSU School of Medicine, in an official release

Christy Staats, the patient, had been watching a tiny spot just under her eye for several years. She saw several doctors over time, but it was dismissed as just another spot on the skin.

This spot appeared larger than usual during the Covid-19 pandemic. That's when she went to see a dermatologist at OHSU. 

Witkowski explained at the time that it was a cherry angioma, a common, benign skin growth. However, Witkowski also noticed a tiny spot nearby on her right cheek while inspecting this, which would have gone unnoticed otherwise. He then conducted additional testing. 

“I took a picture of the spot with the Sklip smartphone attachment, then performed additional imaging with reflectance confocal microscopy (virtual biopsy) which showed atypical cells concerning for melanoma. I told Christy right there at the bedside, 'I think this could be the smallest skin cancer ever detected',” said Witkowski. 

A physical biopsy of the mole revealed an extremely small melanoma in situ. The OHSU team published the details of this in-situ micro-melanoma in a research paper. 

According to the American Cancer Society, as many as 97,610 new melanoma cases could be diagnosed in the United States alone in 2023. Melanoma accounts for only a small fraction (about one percent) of all skin cancers, but it is responsible for a large proportion of skin cancer deaths.  

“With melanoma, your eyes really can be your best tool. A mole or spot on your skin that is changing in appearance — size, shape, coloration — is a key indicator for melanoma,” said Sancy Leachman, director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Program.

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