By Lauren Sharkey
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. With its incidence rates continuing to rise, researchers are looking for ways to spot it early on. A new laser device may be able to do so instantly.
“With skin cancer, there’s a saying that if you can spot it you can stop it — and that’s exactly what this probe is designed to do,” says Daniel Louie, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.
Louie has helped design a low-cost device that can quickly detect cancerous skin cells.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Typically split into two categories — melanoma and nonmelanoma — the condition can result in a series of complications if a person does not seek treatment.
While nonmelanoma cases may lead to disfigurement, melanoma can be deadly. Also, melanoma’s rates have been going up for the past 30 years, according to the American Cancer Society.
It is now one of the most common cancers in young adults, particularly young women.
How light waves detect cancer
Detecting the cancer early is essential for a good prognosis. One way to do so is using light waves. As these pass through objects, they scatter in a certain way. Louie used this principle to design a laser probe that could interpret these patterns within seconds.
“Because cancer cells are denser, larger, and more irregularly shaped than normal cells, they cause distinctive scattering in the light waves as they pass through,” he explains.
Researchers from UBC, BC Cancer, and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute analyzed these light beam changes. They examined 69 lesions from 47 people at the Vancouver General Hospital Skin Care Centre in Canada.
This research — the results of which now appear in the Journal of Biomedical Optics — informed the probe’s design. Not only can it show the precise pattern of laser beams, but it can also very easily read them to detect the presence of cancer.