Skin is the largest organ in the body and in most cases, it is the part of the body that first comes in contact with the environment. Despite being relatively simple on the external surface, the skin is a multilayered organ and plays many roles in sensation, regulation, and protection. The three layers are the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis, the visible layer, houses cells that make new skin cells and melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour. The dermis, the middle layer, contains the roots of our body hair and various glands that produce sweat and oil. Finally, the hypodermis, the innermost layer, is primarily composed of subcutaneous fat which is involved in regulating body temperature and burning ‘bad’ fat.
Being the organ that first comes in contact with the environment, our skin is faced with many dangers; ultraviolet radiation poses one of the greatest dangers to the skin. Ultraviolet light is a health risk because it is a type of ionizing radiation- a type of radiation with enough energy to remove an electron from an atom. Within the body, ionizing radiation is capable of damaging DNA, DNA damage can trigger mutations which, after many rounds of multiplication, can form malignant and benign tumors. This risk increases with the concentration of radiation one is exposed to. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer in which tumors form in the melanocytes. There exist a few methods which can help identify malignant tumors, there aren’t many efficient ways to diagnose cancer in its early stages.
Current methods of diagnosis include skin exams, which can be done by one’s self or by their primary doctor. If doctors suspect that a patient may have melanoma, they are usually referred to a dermatologist who then uses a technique called dermatoscopy to take a better look at the skin. If melanoma seems to be the probable diagnosis, a biopsy (a procedure in which a sample of the skin is removed and analyzed in a lab) is conducted.
In the early stages of melanoma, the tumors often appear similar to moles, which are harmless. It is because of this resemblance that many cases of melanoma often go undiagnosed until the disease has reached later stages of development. According to researchers, the 5-year melanoma survival rate falls anywhere between 93%-97%, if the cancer is caught at an early stage.
Fortunately, there has recently emerged a novel melanoma diagnostic device which eliminates the need for invasive biopsies. This device, commonly known as MelaFind, is a handheld scanner capable of detecting melanoma by scanning skin lesions and moles and based on numerous clinical trials, it has proven to be a highly effective, highly sensitive melanoma detection device. MelaFind works by emitting 10 different wavelengths of light onto a lesion, which returns information on the physical makeup of the lesion to the MelaFind computer system which uses an algorithm to provide doctors with 100% objective information about the growth patterns and composition of the lesion, to help them make informed decisions.
In one of the major studies involving MelaFind, 1,383 patients with 1,831 pigmented skin lesions were recruited. Exclusion criteria for the study included lesions that were greater than 22 mm and less than 2mm, lesions with the previous biopsy, tattooing, scarring or removal, and lesions that were not accessible by the device (e.g., near the eye, on mucosal and palmar surfaces). At the end of the study, MelaFind was able to identify 125 of the 127 malignant lesions, a significantly higher sensitivity than traditional tissue evaluation.
This new hand-held, external cancer detection device is the first of its kind. There is still much debate concerning the usage of MelaFind as a diagnostic tool in itself or a supplementary tool in the process of melanoma diagnosis. One current limitation of the device is that it sacrifices specificity for sensitivity, allowing for the misidentifications of many benign tumors as suspicious. Further investigations involving the device still need to be conducted but in the meantime, it is safe to say that MelaFind is a safe and easy to use tool in the melanoma diagnosis process.
Monheit G, Cognetta AB, Ferris L, et al. The Performance of MelaFindA Prospective Multicenter Study. Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(2):188–194. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2010.302
“Optical Scanners for Melanoma Detection.” Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH), 31 Mar. 2014, www.cadth.ca/optical-scanners-melanoma-detection.
“Skin Cancer Foundation.” Treatments for Stage III and Stage IV Melanoma – SkinCancer.org, www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma#panel1-5.
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“The Layers of Your Skin.” American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org/public/kids/skin/the-layers-of-your-skin.