New hand-held device uses lasers, sound waves for deeper melanoma imaging

Handheld probe
A photograph of the handheld probe. The motor, translation stage, ultrasonic transducer, and optical fibers are all incorporated in this handheld probe for easy operation.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, causing more than 75 percent of skin-cancer deaths. The thicker the melanoma tumor, the more likely it will spread and the deadlier it becomes. Now, a team of researchers has developed a new hand-held device that uses lasers and sound waves that may change the way doctors treat and diagnose melanoma. The tool is ready for commercialization and clinical trials.

A new hand-held device that uses lasers and sound waves may change the way doctors treat and diagnose melanoma, according to a team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis. The instrument, described in a paper published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Optics Letters, is the first that can be used directly on a patient and accurately measure how deep a melanoma tumor extends into the skin, providing valuable information for treatment, diagnosis or prognosis.

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer type in the United States, and incidence rates are rising faster than those of any other cancer. It’s also the deadliest form of skin cancer, causing more than 75 percent of skin-cancer deaths.

The thicker the melanoma tumor, the more likely it will spread and the deadlier it becomes, says dermatologist Lynn Cornelius, one of the study’s coauthors. Being able to measure the depth of the tumor in vivo enables doctors to determine prognoses more accurately — potentially at the time of initial evaluation — and plan treatments and surgeries accordingly.

The problem is that current methods can’t directly measure a patient’s tumor very well. Because skin scatters light, high-resolution optical techniques don’t reach deep enough. “None are really sufficient to provide the two to four millimeter penetration that’s at least required for melanoma diagnosis, prognosis or surgical planning,” says engineer Lihong Wang, another coauthor on the Optics Letters paper. Continue reading