“Skinometer” can detect skin cancer that is invisible to the human eye | UK News
The world’s first scanner capable of detecting skin cancer invisible to the human eye was developed to improve diagnosis and speed up surgery.
The aim of the “skinometer” – developed by scientists at Warwick University – is to see how far the cancer has spread under the skin.
Skin cancer patients being treated at Coventry University Hospital are now encouraged to take part in trials of the technology.
Professor Joe Hardwicke, board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the hospital, says the development is “very exciting”.
He explained: “Some skin cancers can be under the skin that we can’t actually see. So when we surgically remove them, there may occasionally be something left behind.
“The hope with this technology is that we can be more accurate in our surgery and remove more cancer the first time.”
Currently, multiple skin samples need to be taken and examined during a procedure to ensure all cancer cells are removed – but using the skin scanner should cut surgery times significantly.
In 2013, Heather Norgrove discovered an unusual white bump on her upper arm. It was removed, but six months later it was back and bigger than before.
It was only then that she was diagnosed with invasive melanoma, which required excision and a skin graft.
“If we had had a scanner, it would have indicated immediately that there was a problem,” she said.
“We would have known there was a fair chance it was malignant, it had ruptured inward and was therefore much larger underneath than above.”
Importantly, the scanner would have avoided the “long, awful wait” for diagnosis, and treatment could have started sooner.
The Skinometer uses pulses of light from the terahertz part of the light spectrum, which hit and bounce off the skin’s surface.
Waveforms of the reflected light show how far the cancer has spread under the skin.
Professor Emma MacPherson from the Department of Physics at Warwick University is leading the project.
“We’re collecting the world’s first data to show that this will work and that we can really reduce the time it takes to diagnose and treat cancer,” she said.
“Around 16,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK alone and that is obviously putting a strain on the NHS. So if we can speed up the process… it will take a lot of the pressure off and cut costs for the NHS.”
She hopes the skinometer could be in use within five years and eventually available in general practitioners.
There is a possibility that it could also help in the detection of colon cancer.
And by accurately measuring moisture levels, it’s also hoped to be able to develop specific sunscreens for different skin types.
For Heather, it might have made all the difference. She underwent extensive treatment after her cancer spread.
Now she says it is “absolutely essential” that skin cancer patients volunteer to do research so that others can be helped in the future.
The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with additional support from Cancer Research UK.