The development of a substance to enhance the visibility of skin cancer cells during scans with an advanced medical imaging system that combines ultrasound and light is being reported by scientists.
The hybrid scanner could enable doctors to detect melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, in its earliest and most curable stages, the report in the monthly journal ACS Nano indicates.
Lihong Wang, Younan Xia, and colleagues point out that early diagnosis is key to improving survival in patients with melanoma. The five-year survival rate for melanoma is about 98 percent if detected early but can be as low as 15 percent when detected at an advanced stage. Existing imaging techniques for early detection of melanoma produce low-quality images, can "see" only a fraction of an inch below the skin, and use potentially harmful radioactive materials. A promising new technique called photoacoustic tomography (PAT) can overcome these problems. The system shoots light into tumors, which slightly heats up the cancer cells and produces high frequency sound waves that provide images of the tumor. But the PAT system lacks an optimal contrast agent that can easily enter skin cancer cells and make them visible.