A new handheld device being developed by researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology spots skin cancers without the need for a painful biopsy. Scientists say that the new tool could slash unnecessary biopsies in half and make it easier for doctors to screen for the disease.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the ideal time to talk about ways to prevent and detect a disease that affects 5 million Americans. According to Study Finds, in recent years the number of biopsies performed on Medicare users has grown four times faster than the number of cancers detected. On average, there is only one cancerous growth for every 30 biopsies taken for benign tumors. Biopsies often leave patients with painful wounds that take weeks to heal.
The new device uses millimeter-wave imaging, much like airport scanners, to scan a patient’s skin. Healthy tissue reflects the waves differently than cancerous tissue and with advanced technology the researchers were able to compile high-resolution images of even the tiniest mole or blemish. The 3D maps of scanned lesions accurately detected malignancies from benign growths in 71 patients in seconds, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The device identified cancerous tissues with 97% sensitivity and 98% specificity, similar to hospital-grade diagnostic tools, says Study Finds.
“We aren’t trying to get rid of biopsies,” said Negar Tavassolian, director of the Bio-Electromagnetics Laboratory at Stevens, according to a university news release. “But we do want to give doctors additional tools to help them make better decisions.”
Tavassolian said there are other advanced imaging technologies that can detect skin cancers, but they are “big, expensive machines that aren’t available in the clinic.” The Stevens research team are developing a low-cost device as small and as easy to use as a cell phone in order to bring advanced diagnostics within reach for everyone.
The next step is to pack the team’s diagnostic kit into an integrated circuit which would allow the functional handheld device to be produced for a little as $100 a piece — a fraction of the cost of existing hospital-grade diagnostic equipment. The team hopes to bring their product to market within the next two years, says Study Finds.
“The path forward is clear, and we know what we need to do,” says Tavassolian. “After this proof of concept, we need to miniaturize our technology, bring the price down and bring it to the market.”
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