Living organisms are shielded from the sun's harmful UV rays by ozone, which acts as the planet's natural sunscreen. However, the sunscreen is nearly gone. Our skin is beginning to suffer as a result of the ozone layer being destroyed by greenhouse gases. The World Health Organisation estimates that an additional 10% loss in ozone levels will result in an increase of 300,000 non-melanoma cases and 4,500 skin cancer cases.
The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised its screening guidelines earlier this month, emphasising the need for patients to get moles and other areas evaluated early for potential tumours. Skin cancer is the most common disease diagnosed in America.
Your chances of surviving skin cancer are better the earlier it is discovered. Additionally, recent technological developments in skin cancer research are altering how medical professionals and patients approach this fatal condition. These are the top five tech gadgets to watch out for.
Therapeutic skin cancer vaccine
Merck and Moderna are concentrating their efforts on melanoma while several businesses are experimenting with cancer vaccines. When the vaccination was combined with the immunotherapy Keytruda, their phase II clinical trial findings revealed a 44 percent lower risk of death or a return of melanoma. Additionally, compared to 62 percent of those who only received immunotherapy, 79 percent of those who received the vaccine and immunotherapy remained cancer-free for 18 months. According to Eric Rubin, a senior vice president at Merck, the results might force the firms to quickly expand the vaccine to additional tumour types, including non-small cell lung cancer. The evidence is promising enough for the companies to initiate a Phase 3 study in adjuvant melanoma this year.
The vaccine is administered to melanoma patients in the early stages of their recovery rather than as a prophylactic medicine. The scientists determine which proteins are most likely to be recognised by the human immune system using tumour samples from biopsies. Then, using a specific number of these abnormal genes, they create a personalised mRNA vaccine (adapted from the technology used in Moderna's COVID jab) to strengthen a person's adaptive immunity. According to Eric Whitman, the medical director of Atlantic Health System's cancer service line, if the remaining studies proceed as expected, the vaccine might be made accessible as early as 2025 or 2026.
Genetic tests and personal risk scores
When doctors map out a patient's cancer risk using a variety of technologies, they may then customise their treatment and risk-reduction plan based on that information. According to Meredith McKean, the director of melanoma & skin cancer research at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Tennessee, a person who is considered high-risk (such as someone with a history of skin cancer) may need more frequent screenings and additional body imaging instead of adhering to a standard recommendation like an annual dermal exam. On the other hand, those who are at extremely low risk can be urged to learn how to perform their own self-checks at home.
Additionally, those who are predisposed to developing skin cancer can be found using genetic tests. According to a 2022 research published in the journal Cancer Research Communications, those who learned they had the melanoma-risk-raising MC1R mutation made a greater effort to avoid the sun and have frequent skin inspections. On the basis of images of skin lesions and moles, some doctors even utilise AI technology to create a personalised risk assessment for each patient.
The Dermtech SmartSticker is a simple first step for melanoma screening on worrisome lesions. Four skin patches are applied to a suspected tumour by a dermatologist for less than five seconds before the sample is sent to a Dermtech facility in San Diego, California. The DNA of malignant cells is then examined in the lab. The dermatologist would do a biopsy if the results were positive. If not, the doctor would just keep the patient under clinical observation and skip this unpleasant stage.
"This exam is excellent. The likelihood that the mole is not melanoma is better than 99 percent if the test is negative, according to dermatologist Emily Wood of Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Texas. She continues by saying that because the stickers are painless, inexpensive, and rapid, patients at her clinic prefer them to biopsies. "By detecting melanoma sooner, we'll save lives. Long-term, I believe this will have a significant influence on patients. While research is still being done, some evidence points to the tool's potential to be used to detect skin cancers other than melanoma.
Artificial intelligence apps
Computers are currently being trained by medical researchers to recognise patterns and abnormal traits related to skin cancer. A surgical oncologist at Providence Saint John's Health Centre, Trevan Fischer, claims that "AI picks up a lot more subtle changes than the naked eye." With the great accuracy of AI deep learning, clinicians can save some unnecessary agony for patients by determining if a mole is cancerous and warrants a biopsy.
With AI, a thorough skin examination can be completed at home with the simple push of a few buttons. Users of well-known smartphone applications like MoleMapper may upload a photo and have it checked for suspected skin lesions. You may keep track of any changes to your mole and preserve pictures to show your doctor. Wood cautions that a smartphone app is not intended to replace in-person skin examinations with your doctor.
Millimeter wave imaging
To identify skin tumours, the same technology that is used in airport security scanners is being updated. A non-invasive, less expensive alternative to biopsies, millimetre wave imaging scans a person's skin for any biochemical or molecular alterations indicative of an illness or ailment. When comparing healthy and malignant moles, the radio waves reflect differently.
Although the method is not yet accessible for clinical use, the proof of concept is supported by evidence. When comparing the scans of healthy skin with those for the two most common types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, a 2017 study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering discovered significant differences. Water molecule alterations, changes in glucose levels, and changes in protein levels were all clearly visible to the study's authors. Ultra-high resolution millimetre wave imaging was utilised in a 2018 study published in the same journal to spot skin cancer in its early stages. Most recently, 136 individuals suspected of having skin cancer were studied using the diagnostic tool. Finally, it discovered malignant tumours from diverse skin cancer kinds on 71 individuals, demonstrating the technology's "high diagnostic accuracy."
"We're really trying to leverage all the different ways that advanced technology can help us diagnose and treat skin cancer like melanoma," says Whitman from Atlantic Health Systems. He emphasises that the majority of these tactics were unthinkable just ten years ago. He says that using data to enhance current AI technologies and develop fresh models for personalised medicine "can really make a difference for people and their lives."