MelaFind Spots Your Cancerous Dots With Guided Missile Technology

Melanoma is an easily treatable disease with nearly a 100 per cent cure rate — assuming you discovery it before the cancer metastasises. A new imaging device has been approved by the US Federal Drug Administration, and it's based on a guided-missile navigation system that will find suspect moles faster, easier and more accurately than ever before.

According to estimates from the National Institute of Health, some 70,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year — though 16 per cent will find it after the disease has metastasised and will have just a 15 per cent chance of surviving more five years. According to the Cancer Council, more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with the skin cancer each year.

Normally, when dermatologista inspect moles for biopsy and further study, they select specimens based on rigorous guidelines on the growth's size, shape and colour. Most cancerous moles are relatively easy to spot — they're the big, oddly shaped ones — but many others that may be just starting to turn are much more difficult to diagnose.

"Every day patients come in with 20 moles on their back, and the dilemma is which ones are suspicious and need to be biopsied?" former president of the American Academy of Dermatology Dr David Pariser told HuffPo. "The diagnosis of melanoma is the most serious one a dermatologist makes, and we have sleepless nights worrying about it."

Dermatologists will sleep easier once the recently FDA-approved MelaFind device hits the mainstream. Developed by the MelaScience company and adapted from a 1990s DoD Target of Interest Identification program, this revolutionary system objectively and accurately analyses suspicious moles for early signs of melanoma.

The MelaFind imaging system, which was made available in October of 2011, stands about 1.5m tall atop a rolling base and utilises a handheld scanner with a Zeiss lens. When the dermatologist presses the scanner against a mole, the scanner emits 10 unique wavelengths of light, records those images and then applies a set of proprietary algorithms analysing the various aspects of the mole and comparing them against a database of 10,000 clinical images of moles. The system will arrive at a conclusion within a minute and alert the doctor to the mole's likelihood of being cancerous.

Despite a 98 per cent accuracy predicting melanoma in clinical studies and a 90 per cent reduction in unnecessary biopsies, the device has faced immense contention to receive its FDA approval. Members of the FDA worried that the technology could lull doctors into a false sense of security or provide misleading results (roughly 8 per cent of results from a recent study were returned as "unevalubale"). In fact, the FDA only approved its limited use by specially trained, board-certified dermatologists by a vote of 8-7.

That lack of faith by the FDA is certain to delay this technology's wide release. Currently, it is only available through 200 dermatologists in the northeast US and Germany — each of which has to shell out $US7500 to lease the device and undergo training to use it. Patients will have to drop $US150 of their own money as well — MelaScience won't be submitting it for insurance coverage for a few years still.

As Darrell S. Rigel, MD, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at New York University Medical School, said:

MelaFind has the potential to provide dermatologists with significantly more information about indeterminate pigmented skin lesions to help us when deciding on which lesions to biopsy to detect melanoma as early as possible. While there have been incremental improvements in imaging tools for melanoma detection, we still primarily rely on our judgment based on a visual examination to select the lesions to biopsy; data show that this is often not enough.

So, if you're rich, hate sunscreen and live New York, huzzah! You've got access to cutting-edge healthcare technology that will ensure you live to a ripe old age. [Fastco - MelaFind - MelaScience - HuffPo - FDA - Medical News Today]

Image: D. Kucharski & K. Kucharska / Shutterstock

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