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Optical Imaging Technique Spots Early Biomarkers of Skin Cancer

Clinicians can use measurements of optical and vascular properties to monitor precancerous skin damage.

Janelle Weaver, Contributor
Friday, May 4, 2018


Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Caucasians, and the incidence is rising worldwide. Detecting precancerous skin damage could help clinicians plan appropriate interventions and improve outcomes in high-risk populations.

One potential option is a noninvasive technique called spatial frequency domain imaging. In recent studies, this technique has been used to characterize lesions in patients with non-melanoma skin cancer. Now, new research suggests that it could also be used to detect skin damage at earlier stages, before the lesions have progressed to cancer. The research was presented last month at the Clinical and Translational Biophotonics conference held in Hollywood, Florida, and findings from the pilot study were also published in the June 2017 issue of Biomedical Optics Express.

The researchers used multi-wavelength spatial frequency domain imaging in three individuals with varying levels of skin damage to characterize optical properties (i.e., absorption and scattering) and vascular parameters such as total hemoglobin concentration. The highest levels of absorption, scattering, total hemoglobin concentration and melanin were observed in the patient with visible evidence of actinic keratosis -- a thick, scaly, precancerous patch of skin caused by long-term sun exposure.

According to the authors, clinicians can use this approach to frequently monitor the progress of precancerous lesions turning malignant in high-risk patients.