Dermatologists may soon have a new tool to aid in the diagnosis of melanoma. MelaFind, a noninvasive computer-vision system, aids doctors in the diagnosis of pigmented lesions, helping to distinguish melanoma from benign lesions. The device is a computer on a rolling rack with an attached camera. The camera, which is placed on the skin lesion, takes images at various depths. The images are compared with images in the database to help confirm or disprove the likelihood of melanoma diagnosis. The diagnosis then needs to be confirmed by biopsy. In the company sponsored clinical trial, the Melafind was accurate 98.3% in diagnosing melanoma lesions vs. dermatologists’ diagnoses, which were accurate 80% of the time. (The 80% accuracy in melanoma diagnosis by dermatologists is lower than other studies. One must keep in mind that this was an industry sponsored clinical trial)
The device has not yet passed all the hurdles of FDA approval. The next hurdle will be gaining approval from Medicare and other insurance plans to cover the test. Currently, there is a more cost effective diagnostic tool, the dermatoscope.This is a non-invasive handheld magnifying device that is placed on the surface of the patient’s skin, allowing the dermatologists to identify morphological structures at or below the skin surface that re not visible to the naked eye. There are specific dermoscopy patterns associated with melanoma which can help the dermatologist determine if a biopsy is necessary. The “gold standard” for diagnosis is still a skin biopsy. The dermatoscope or Melafind can help the dermatologist analyze smaller, suspicious lesions and perhaps avoid doing unnecessary biopsies. Studies have shown that dermatologists who are experienced in the use of a dermatoscope can be 90% accurate or better in the clinical diagnosis of melanoma.
The most important partner in diagnosis is the patient. Those who are at high risk for developing melanoma are: individuals who have used tanning parlors, those with a family history of melanoma and individuals with fair skin who have had a history of severe sunburns. A yearly skin exam is important for patients at high risk. The yearly exam should be coupled with regular self-exams of the skin. If you fall into one of the high risk categories, you should schedule a skin exam with your dermatologist now. And, begin to do self-exams regularly by using the tools on the Skin Cancer Foundation website: http://www.skincancer.org/Self-Examination/ Pigmented or brown/black lesions on the skin which have grown, changed or appear different than other moles should have an evaluation by a dermatologist. And don’t forget about prevention. Apply your sunscreen…SPR 30or better.