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Laser Technology Might Help Doctors Diagnose Melanoma
Date:2/23/2011

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've developed a new and potentially more accurate way to diagnose melanoma lesions, using laser technology.

The laser equipment spots key differences in pigmentation between healthy skin and cancerous tissue, the team explained.

As currently envisioned, the new screening procedure would still require excision of suspicious moles (otherwise known as a tissue biopsy) before the laser-imaging diagnosis could be attempted. However, preliminary indications suggest that the approach will be more precise than current screening procedures, which can often leave patients with inconclusive results and unnecessary surgeries.

Researchers from Duke University's Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging (CMBI) in Durham, N.C., discuss the technique in the Feb. 23 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The work was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the fifth- and sixth-most common cancer overall for American men and women, respectively, according to background information in the study. In 2009, over 68,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 8,700 patients died from the disease.

Pathologists have been somewhat frustrated by standard techniques designed to catch the disease, the study authors noted. These techniques include the use of a light and magnifying glass and the removal and analysis in the laboratory of sample cells. The researchers pointed out that even lab analysis yields only about 85 percent diagnostic accuracy.

The Duke research team, including CMBI director Warren S. Warren and Duke graduate student Thomas Matthews, tried out the lasers on 42 skin slices, pumping two beams -- smaller than those emitted by everyday laser pointers -- at the target moles. The laser energy that was
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