A simple check-up can help estimate the number of moles present on your body, indicating whether you are more or less at risk of incurring a melanoma, the less frequent but more dangerous form of skin cancer. The presence of more than 11 moles on the right arm would indicate a higher probability than the average of developing this lesion.

The study published in the British Journal of Dermatology could provide family doctors with an additional tool in the fight against melanoma, of which only 10, 000 new cases are recorded each year in Italy.

Sample checks. The number of moles is one of the most important risk indicators of melanoma, although only 20-40% of these tumors derive from the worsening of pre-existing tumors. Counting all the small spots on your body can be challenging and for years dermatologists are looking for a reduced portion of skin that can serve as a "sample" for this evaluation.

Correlation. Researchers at King's College in London studied data on the moles of 3, 594 Caucasian women who had been screened for moles and freckles in 17 parts of their bodies for eight years. The number of moles on the women's right arm was the most predictive factor in the number of moles on the skin.

Where to look. In women with more than 7 moles on the right arm a risk nine times higher was found to have more than 50 moles on the entire body; those with more than 11 moles on the arm are more likely to have over 100 in total, and are therefore more at risk of melanoma. The region of skin above the right elbow, and the one that covers the legs and back (the latter especially in men) are particularly predictive of the total number of moles.

Don't panic. In short, attention is a must, but it is good to avoid alarmism. Experts recall that most moles are benign in nature, and that the changes in shape, color and size of these spots must be the main concern.