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Researchers at Duke University have devised a laser which can potentially detect cancerous moles. This new technique could aid doctors in better diagnosing and treating malignant melanomas, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Swift diagnosis and treatment is imperative to survival.
The team from the Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging, led by Professor Warren S. Warren, imaged 42 skin slices in their research and successfully managed to identify all 11 cases of melanoma.
The technique involves two laser beams (less than the size of a laser pointer) directed at the mole. Doctors can then examine the way in which the light is absorbed by the skin cells. The laser energy will automatically go to the darker pigmentation (dark areas absorb more light). Cancerous tissue contains more pigmentation called eumelanin which is easier to detect using the laser technique. Doctors are also able to see the tiny differences in pigmentation that could be a sign of skin cancer.
Doctors commonly examine moles using light and magnification glasses before making a diagnosis and possible biopsy. The laser would allow doctors to screen the moles that are suspicious.
All modern methods of imaging used in other areas of disease, such as X-rays and MRI, do not work well on skin. Therefore, the laser technique, which examines the difference in pigmentation between healthy and cancerous tissue, is expected to be more successful.
In 2009, Warren was awarded a 1 million dollar Challenge Grant from the National Institutes of Health – American Recovery and Reinvestment of 2009 – to develop the imaging tool. The teams results were published in the February 23 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
The team at Duke will next test thousands of archived skin slice samples, and are looking at ways to diagnose skin cancer changes in moles that have not been removed and to detect moles in which skin cancer may be developing.
Warren said, “Melanomas are very hard to diagnose, because they look almost identical to non-cancerous abnormal moles.