A new European system based on confocal imaging promises to improve detection and diagnosis rates for skin cancer by 20 per cent.
Recent statistics for
“Diagnosis of skin cancers can take weeks, depending on the health system,” said Dr Jafer Sheblee, co-ordinator of the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies (IST) project EDISCIM.
“The process involves visits to a general practitioner and a hospital specialist,” continued Dr Sheblee. “With our new system, we hope to replace these visits with just one visit and by detecting skin cancer as early as possible, to offer patients the most complete treatment.”
Doctors can choose from some 40 different imaging techniques to detect and diagnose skin cancer, the simplest being a magnifying glass. Most techniques evaluate external skin features, such as colour or morphology. “But doctors need to look deeper into the basal layers, at least one millimetre down, to be sure of their diagnosis,” said Dr Sheblee.
The original idea for using confocal microscopy to look deeper into skin came from German company Siemens. The technology involves illumination of a single point in a sample with a laser and imaging of the same point by opto-mechanical means. When Siemens dropped out of the project, the remaining partners sought a replacement. In stepped
“Confocal microscopy allows you to optically section through objects,” said Dr Sheblee. “It’s like a biopsy without the painful physical cuts and resulting scars, looking at layers slice by slice. The technology has been around for 50 years, but only recently been used in the life sciences area.
“Because it calls on lasers and high-end imaging, confocal technology is expensive. One project goal was to reduce the manufacture costs – by stripping away everything not needed for skin diagnosis, redesigning optical components and producing a user-friendly design. We can cut these costs by a factor of ten, resulting in a 20,000 Euro machine that is affordable for many outpatient centres.”
Trials at two university hospitals – in
“We demonstrated our system can detect skin cancer earlier than existing techniques. It can also generate data at least as good as that achieved by a biopsy,” said the co-ordinator. He added that today’s best skin cancer detection rates are 75 per cent. “Our system can reach 95 per cent, even when used by people who are not skin experts.”
Though the project has ended, the partners want to make a smaller version of their prototype system. “We hope to develop a partnership for this with our