A research from Australian company has finalized development of a digital screening device it says will take the guesswork out of diagnosing melanomas, the third most common cancer in Australia. Victor Skladnev, managing director of Polartechnics said that in terms of its ability to diagnose melanomas, it matches top specialists.
Image analysis and computer-aided diagnostic software for SolarScan, which has been under development for eight years, was designed for Polartechnics by Australia's national scientific research organization, the CSIRO. Leanne Bischof, who helped write the software, described it as "one of the most exciting and rewarding projects we've worked on. We had to ensure it wasn't garbage in, garbage out."
Dr. Scott Menzies, senior lecturer in melanoma and skin oncology at the University of Sydney, called the diagnostic software a major advance. Menzies was one of the specialists from around the world who used a SolarScan prototype as part of clinical trials.
In the United States, a prototype was used at the Florida clinic of Dr. Harold Rabinovitz, a member of the Telemedicine Task Force of the American Academy of Dermatology. The SolarScan looks a bit like a hair drier. When the head of the unit is passed over a patient's skin, its built-in video camera captures an image of a skin lesion.
It then downloads the information to the SolarScan computer, where image analysis software identifies the boundary of the lesion and key diagnostic features, such as color segmentation, patterns and shape. The software compares these features against images of melanomas and non-melanomas in the computer database, collected during clinical trials. SolarScan then returns magnified skin images and a diagnosis for immediate assessment by the physician, who no longer has to wait for a biopsy result.
"The key to saving lives is early detection and treatment," Menzies said. "If detected early, the cure rate for melanomas is 90 percent. But when detected late, chances of survival drop to around 65 percent. "I've used the device and it has detected melanomas that look like benign moles and that would not have been detected in a routine clinical examination," he said.
Apart from providing a diagnosis of a lesion, SolarScan also can monitor lesions over time to detect changes, keeping a record in the Body Map software so the lesion can be rechecked over time to ascertain whether it has changed in color or shape. It monitors lesions for subtle changes that may not be apparent through normal visual skin exams.
"The great thing is that computers have perfect memory. In the case of skin, memory is a crucial thing. No doctor can remember every type of skin lesion nor can they remember every person's spot and whether it has changed, but a computer can," Skladnev said. He said SolarScan is easy to use and a medical specialist is required only to check potential problem areas diagnosed by the device.
The developers hope SolarScan, which costs about Rs.50,000 for a basic unit, not only will save lives, but also reduce the number of unnecessary operations in which a spot is cut out just to be on the safe side.