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New Device May Help Detect Skin Cancer Earlier

Posted: December 18, 2008

Researchers report promising results for the viability of a portable, handheld device using a specialized light technique that may enhance the differential diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancers, inflamed scar tissue and normal skin in vivo.

Recently published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine (August 2008 issue), the peer-reviewed professional journal of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, the retrospective study discussed the advantages of using Raman microspectroscopy to examineand classify pathologic skin cells.

In his article entitled “In Vivo Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Diagnosis Using Raman Microspectroscopy,” author Chad A. Lieber, PhD, a biomedical engineer and head of the biooptics laboratory at CHOC Research Institute, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Orange, CA, explains how his research team from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, utilized the Raman technique to noninvasively classify nonmelanoma skin cancers.

According to Dr. Lieber, Raman spectroscopy is an optical technique that probes the vibrational activity of chemical bonds using interactions with laser light. As such, each molecule has a spectral “fingerprint” characteristic of its modes of vibration. In medical diagnostics, these spectral fingerprints can be used to differentiate samples according to their chemical consistency—such as distinguishing cancerous tissue from normal tissue. This molecular specificity could presumably allow detection of subtle changes in the body well before conventional signs of problems might arise.

“Skin cancer is more common than any other cancer, and early detection is critical to keeping the cancer localized and minimizing its threat of spreading,” said Dr. Lieber. “The current gold standard for diagnosing skin lesions is invasive and error-prone; these drawbacks beg the need for a more streamlined diagnostic technique. Today, people can check their blood pressure at monitors available in every drugstore. If people could check for skin cancer just as readily, I think more skin cancers would be detected in their earliest and most treatable stages.”