Infrared laser beam detects skin cancer in less than 30 seconds

Skin cancer diagnosis can take weeks and is extremely upsetting for patients. However, a new imaging system can dramatically speed up the process of diagnosis and avoids sentinel-lymph node biopsies.

A new handheld laser can see 1mm under the skin and create a 3D colour image of the blood vessels underneath in 30-seconds.   

The technology is a more advanced version of optical coherence tomography – commonly used in retina scans.

Melanomas require oxygen to grow and survive and thus create their own blood vessels. As the cancer grows and becomes more malignant, the vessels become distorted and malformed and differ in appearance from healthy blood vessels.

The scanner works by revealing the microstructures in 3D and doctors are then able to spot how the cancer has developed. The imaging device captures around four frames per second and compiles the images, enabling clinicians to study the flicker of light created by the moving blood cells and tell whether something on the image has moved.    

Speaking on the technology, UK project leader Jon Holmes of Michelson Diagnostics Ltd, a key partner in the ADVANCE consortium, said:

“Every melanoma above a certain thickness could have spread to other parts of the body. At present, all patients with such melanomas have to wait for a sentinel lymph node biopsy performed in a hospital under general anesthesia to find out if it is spreading. This can take weeks to perform, is very expensive and can be debilitating for the patient. Using D-OCT we can see movement of blood against the solid tissue structures, something we have never been able to do before in a clinical setting. It’s like looking out at night and seeing cars’ headlights flowing along a motorway, only at depths of nanometers under the skin,”

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