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The BBC's Catherine Bennett
"A major weapon in the fight against skin cancer"
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Sunday, 7 May, 2000, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Skin cancer diagnosis advance
Man on sunbed
Skin cancer can be caused by ultraviolet rays
A new and more accurate method of detecting skin cancer has been developed by British scientists.

Cancer: the facts
The technique uses a computer to examine the skin rather than relying on the eye of the doctor.

Researchers from the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey believe their equipment will make it easier for GPs to diagnose the disease in the early stages.

Light is shone on a mole and the reflection analysed by computer
The number of cases of skin cancer is increasing rapidly in the UK with incidences between 1979 and 1993 increasing by around 80% in males aged under 25 and by around 60% in women of the same age.

Detected early, malignant melanomas - the most dangerous form of skin cancer, caused by over exposure to sun - can be successfully treated.

But the difference between a benign and a malignant melanoma is often hard to spot.

Dr Peter Mortimer of the Royal Marsden said: "At the moment the only way to tell whether the mole is benign is through the clinical judgement of the doctor concerned which is never 100% reliable or by cutting the lesion out.

"The majority of moles that are cut out at the moment are cut out needlessly just in order to seek the reassurance that it is indeed benign."

Doctor examines patient
Technique may be more reliable than visual examination
But the latest development provides an easier and more accurate method of diagnosing a cancer.

The technique involves shining a beam of light on the mole and relies on the fact that benign and malignant moles reflect light in different ways.

A computer scans the wavelengths of light reflected by the mole and diagnoses whether it is cancerous.

Scientists say their equipment has a long way to go before its potential is reached, but they believe it could be a major breakthrough in the fight against skin cancer.

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See also:

01 Feb 99 | Health
Skin cancer gene breakthrough
26 Apr 00 | Health
UK tans on despite danger
26 May 99 | Health
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