Top 10 Innovations for 2013
#5 Handheld Optical Scan for Melanoma
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting millions each
year. One in five Americans will develop this cancer in their lifetime. According to the
National Cancer Institute, the incidence of melanoma, the least common but most
lethal type of skin cancer, has been increasing for at least 30 years, mainly due to UV
radiation from sunlight. More than 76,000 Americans develop melanoma annually
and 9,000 are expected to die from it this year.
The survival rate of patients diagnosed with early melanoma is almost 99%, while
survival for patients diagnosed with advanced stage cancer drops to about 15%.
Annual costs for treating skin cancer in the United States surpass $3 billion.
Therefore, early melanoma detection is critical and not just because it allows for more
effective treatment options and higher survival rates, but also because there are fewer
costly and invasive surgeries.
Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. It's often found on the skin on the head,
neck, and between the shoulders and hips in men; in women, it typically appears on
the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and hips. When a dermatologist
makes a visual assessment of a mole that looks unusual or has grown or changed
color or shape recently, he or she will decide on doing a biopsy and removing a small
piece of the mole or the entire mole. A pathologist then looks at the sample under a
microscope to check for cancer cells.
The skin is the only organ entirely available to inspection and it can be looked at every
day. Dermatologists are experts at analyzing the surface of the skin but detecting lifethreatening
melanomas with the human eye has its own set of challenges. Melanoma
in situ and invasive melanomas often mimic benign lookalikes. This is compounded
when a patient has many moles or suspicious spots on his or her body, which
sometimes adds to the difficulty in deciding what needs to be biopsied.
Additional facts for a dermatologist means that a more informed decision can be made
when having to decide whether to biopsy or not. There is now a new FDA-approved handheld office device for dermatologists that can provide that extra information needed to help these specialists in the identification of skin lesions that have characteristics of melanoma.
Without cutting the skin, the device—which uses imaging technology created by the military for guided
missile navigation—is placed on the skin over the mole. Special lights of 10 specific wavelengths are
shined on the skin, and the computerized system rapidly visualizes the micro-vessel structure of the
lesion just below the skin's surface. The device then uses sophisticated algorithms that objectively
analyze the lesion. Next, the device compares the image findings it has just developed to a database of
10,000 archived images of melanoma and other skin diseases. In less than a minute, an assessment of
the skin lesion is given and the dermatologist can then decide on possible next steps.
In a clinical trial of 1,300 patients, the largest study ever conducted in melanoma detection, the device
detected 98% of the melanomas, while missing fewer than 2% of these early cancers.