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Saturday, July 3, 1999 Published at 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK


Experts target skin cancer

Light treatment is used to combat skin cancer

State-of-the-art techniques to combat skin cancer will be discussed at a conference of international experts in London on Sunday.

Techniques on the agenda at the Sixth International Skin Imaging conference include advanced photographic methods, new microscopes and ultrasound designs which could make it easier for doctors to see how skin cancers develop.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign who is chairing the conference, said: "It is a very important time for advancements in skin imaging.

[ image: Professor Gordon McVie is president of the conference]
Professor Gordon McVie is president of the conference
"Skin cancer, in all its forms, is one of the commonest cancers.

"Maligant melanoma is a particularly dangerous form of the disease because it can spread to other parts of the body very quickly. These new techniques will help diagnose it early and could save many lives in the future."

The conference will look at futuristic methods which provide doctors with detail at a microscopic level allowing a quick and accurate diagnosis.

Sophisticated microscopy

One method on the agenda is "epiluminescence microscopy".

This is similar to a sophisticated magnifying lens except it not only enlarges the image but sees through the skin surface.

This gives a clearer definition of features like pigment which are not easily visible to the naked eye.

The image is fed into a computer which, using complex programmes, would then be able to determine whether the tissue is cancerous.

Dr Peter Mortimer, from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: "New methods like this are extremely exciting.

"In the future is should be possible for patients to be screened quickly ad their skin cancer diagnosed without the need for painful and unnecessary surgery.

"But these techniques don't have to stop at skin cancer. In theory they could be used for investigating other forms of the disease."

Imaging expert Professor Joseph Izatt will tell the conference about a new piece of equipment using light.

This is similar to ultrasound which transfers sound images into pictures. Professor Izatt's scanner uses light and colour to show up the skin in a fine detail.

The scane could also be easily fitted onto a probe which could help diagnose tumours like colon cancer.

Dr Mortimer said: "This imaging equipment has the potential to look at individual cells and monitor blood flow which is an important factor in tumour growth."

Major killer

Malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, kills up to 1,500 people in the UK every year and is on the increase.

There are around 40,000 new cases of skin cancer every year in the UK. Most are benign, but 10% are malignant melanomas.

There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (together referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer), and melanoma.

The best way to reduce the chances of developing the disease is to avoid exposure to the ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun.Sunburn in particular has been linked to melanoma.

Melanoma starts in the cells that colour the skin, but quickly spreads to other parts of the body through the lymph system that fights disease or through the blood.

The initial symptoms of melanoma include change in the size, shape and colour of a mole, or a mole that feels itchy, hard, lumpy, swollen or tender to the touch.

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