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Non-invasive laser test for skin cancer shows promise

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A new, non-invasive technique that can accurately detect malignant melanoma without a biopsy has been developed by researchers in the UK and Italy.

A study has shown that it is possible to tell the difference between malignant melanoma and non-cancerous moles using a laser to detect the subtle differences in blood flow beneath the skin.

During the study, 55 patients with atypical moles agreed to have their skin monitored by researchers at Pisa University using a laser Doppler system.

The laser Doppler was used to record the complex interactions taking place in the minute blood vessels beneath their suspicious mole for around 30 minutes.

“Skin malignant melanoma is a particularly aggressive cancer associated with quick blood vessel growth”

Marco Rossi

The fluctuations in recorded signals were then analysed using methods developed by physicists at Lancaster University.

The patients in the study subsequently had their moles biopsied.

The biopsy results were then compared with the information obtained using the earlier laser Doppler scan. 

The laser Doppler signal correctly identified 100% of the patients with malignant skin, according to the results published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Study author Professor Aneta Stefanovska, from Lancaster University, said: “We used our knowledge of blood flow dynamics to pick up on markers which were consistently different in the blood vessels supplying malignant moles and those beneath normal skin.

“Combining the new dynamical biomarkers we created a test which, based on the number of subjects tested to date, has 100% sensitivity and 90.9% specificity, which means that melanoma is identified in all cases where it is present, and ruled out in 90.9% of cases where it is not,” she said.

Professor Marco Rossi, from Pisa University, noted that the current diagnostic tools of examination followed by biopsy “inevitably” led to “many unnecessary invasive excisions”.

“This simple, accurate, in vivo distinction between malignant melanoma and atypical moles may lead to a substantial reduction in the number of biopsies currently undertaken,” he said.

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