Doctors typically use a light and a magnifying glass or tissue biopsy, where a pathologist removes suspicious skin cells and looks at them under a microscope, to spot signs of disease. But using a lens and a light is a "17th century" technique that is only 85 percent accurate, at best, and tissue biopsy is not much more reliable, Warren said.
In 14 percent of biopsy diagnoses, pathologists would disagree on whether or not the sampled cells were cancerous, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology. The statistic implies that two pathologists would have opposing diagnoses on 214,000 to 643,000 melanoma cases each year, Warren said.
When studying biopsied tissue, doctors typically follow the "when in doubt, cut it out" philosophy. If they are not sure about the health of the skin tissue, doctors remove additional skin around the diseased cells. The first and second tissue biopsies can cost thousands of dollars. If the melanoma is thought have spread, patients may then have lymph nodes in their arms removed or undergo chemotherapy, which dramatically adds to treatment costs.
But not all of the extra treatment is necessary because not all of the biopsied tissues are actually cancerous. Doctors need a more accurate way to diagnose melanoma, Warren said.
In 2009, he received a $1 million Challenge Grant from the National Institutes of Health, which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to develop the imaging tool.
The highly specialized lasers are currently commercially available and would only need to be added to the microscopes pathologists already use to diagnose melanomas. The cost for the added instrumentation is about $100,000, which may sound like a lot of money, but if each false positive melanoma diagnosis costs thousands of dollars, having such an instrument available for questionable cases could considerably redu
|Contact: Ashley Yeager|