Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers.
In 2010 U.S. doctors diagnosed nearly 115,000 new cases of melanoma, with nearly 8,700 resulting in death. Scientists at Duke University have developed a new laser-based tool designed to identify malignant melanomas sooner, without the expense of false diagnosis and unnecessary surgery.
The new technique involves using two low-energy lasers to probe suspect moles. The redistribution of energy is examined to identify microscopic areas of varying skin pigment. In the study, forty-two skin samples were probed with the double laser tool, highlighting higher levels of a skin pigment known as eumelanin in melanomas. Using this higher presence of eumelanin as the indicator, the team was able to positively identify all eleven samples of melanoma in the study.
The trial will continue using thousands of archived skin slices as tests. The team also hope the technique will correctly identify samples from moles that eventually became cancerous.
“For the first time, scientists have the ability to identify substantial chemical differences between cancerous and healthy skin tissues,” said Thomas Matthews, a Duke graduate student who helped to develop the new microscopy technique.
Currently the laser can only be used with tissue on slides, but Matthews is also trying to develop a technique to image skin cancers in situ. However this would be a much more expensive device and they do not expect it to be ready for several years.