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New Devices and Methods for Detecting Skin Cancer

Posted: November 14, 2008

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Another exciting technology dermatologists are using to evaluate suspected skin cancers is a hand-held light device known as dermascopy that can look at the pigment of the skin through specialized filters that magnify and polarize lesions. For example, similar to how filters are used on cameras to create certain backgrounds, filters are used on this device to enhance certain features of lesions - such as brown or red background colors that could indicate a melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer).

Marmur noted that one of the main benefits of dermascopy is the ability to immediately evaluate a potential melanoma based on its magnified characteristics, which could help decrease the number of biopsies needed to make an accurate diagnosis, or can push the physician to biopsy a borderline lesion that appears more suspicious with the assistance of the dermatoscope.

In addition, newer computer systems are being used in conjunction with hand-held photography devices to more accurately diagnose melanomas. For example, the photo device takes a digital picture of the suspicious lesion, which is then magnified on the computer screen for closer examination. The computer system also contains a database of characteristics of approximately 100,000 evolving melanomas, which the lesions are then graded against to see if certain features score high enough on the scale to warrant having a biopsy.

“With the improvement of early detection methods, we are finding an increasing number of smaller skin cancers,” said Marmur. “We know from experience that detecting skin cancer in its earliest stage means better cure rates and survival rates. Prognosis plummets as the depth of melanoma increases even by the smallest increment of one millimeter.”

New self-exam tools

Since skin cancer is the only cancer you can see on the surface of your skin at its earliest stage, performing regular skin self-examinations is an easy way to detect any suspicious spots that could be cancerous. To enhance a patient’s ability to detect the warning signs of skin cancer, the Academy is refining the ABCDs of melanoma detection by adding an “E.” The letter “E” stands for Evolving - a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color. This is in addition to other qualities of moles for which individuals should check their skin - Asymmetry (one half unlike the other half), Border (irregular, scalloped or poorly defined), Color (varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue), and Diameter (the size of a pencil eraser or larger). If a mole exhibits any of these characteristics, it should be brought to a dermatologist’s attention.