Solarscan: A New Way to Diagnose Melanoma Cancers

Melanoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer. Melanoma is a kind of cancer that appears on the skin as a mole and, if left unchecked, can spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.”

About forty seven thousand people in the United States are diagnosed with melanoma cancer every year. Of that number, over seven thousand people will eventually die of the disease. Melanoma cancer can become malignant and, if unchecked, spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes.

The usual form of diagnosis is to visually examine the skin and, if a mole or other discoloration is suspected being a melanoma cancer lesion, do a biopsy. Polartechnics, a company in Australia (a country with an unusually high rate of melanoma cancer deaths) has developed a new method of diagnosing melanoma cancer. It uses a device called Solarscan to take an image of a possible melanoma cancer lesion and performs an analysis to determine whether it is cancerous or not.

Solarscan works in a number of steps. First, the lesion has oil or gel applied to it in order to reduce surface reflections. Then a hand held camera is used to capture the image. Then the image is processed to make certain that it is calibrated to a standard level of illumination. The image is processed to eliminate hairs and air bubbles and to define the boundary of the lesion. Then the image of the lesion is evaluated by a computer according to one hundred characteristics, including color segmentation, lesion patterns, and geometry. The lesion characteristics are evaluated against a database of statistical data on melanoma lesions. Finally the results are displayed on a computer screen for clinical evaluation.

The use of Solarscan would seem to help in taking out the guesswork in visual examination of potential melanoma cancer lesions. As with all cancers, early detection of melanoma cancer is crucial for a successful treatment and patient survival. Often, though, melanoma cancer lesions are missed or else misdiagnosed, resulting in unnecessary treatment. Polartechnics claims an 83 percent accuracy rate using the Solarscan, approaching 100 percent if the lesion is monitored over a period of three months. More studies are being conducted to confirm these claims.

Solarscan is in use at a number of clinics in Australia. Trials using Solarscan technology are being conducted in the United States. Physicians conducting the trials are hopeful that one day such technology will surpass the skill of a trained doctor in early detection of melanomas. That depends on compiling a large enough database of cancerous lesions to make the analysis more accurate. In the meantime, Solarscan, at least in Australia, is proving to be a good diagnostic tool that can alert doctors to cause them to take a closer look at suspect skin lesions, and thus save more lives.

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