Research led by scientists at the Lancaster University and Pisa University in Italy has produced a unique, non-invasive technique that accurately detects malignant melanoma without the need of a biopsy. The technique makes use of a laser to detect minor differences in blood flow underneath the skin, allowing researchers to establish whether a mole was malignant or non-cancerous.

The Study: Using Doppler Laser To Assess Differences Between Malignant and Benign Tumors

According to the study, published online in Nature Scientific Reports, 55 patients with atypical moles allowed their skin to be monitored by a laser Doppler system at the Pisa University Hospital. The laser Doppler recorded intricate interactions taking place inside the tiny blood vessels beneath the moles for about 30 minutes. The fluctuations in the signals were later analyzed using methods devised by Lancaster University physicists.

The patients then had their moles biopsied and the results were compared with the analysis of the non-invasive Doppler system – the signal correctly identified all patients that had malignant moles; 100 percent success rate.

Non-Invasive Cancer Test Possible Now

Professor Marco Rossi from the Pisa University explained that skin malignant melanoma was a particularly aggressive cancer. Due to the rapid growth and development of blood vessels, an early diagnosis is very important for effective treatment and prognosis. He said that the existing diagnostic regimes used by doctors involved invasive biopsies and unnecessary excisions.

“This simple and precise in vivo difference between malignant melanoma and atypical moles could lead to a significant reduction in the number of biopsies currently being performed.”

While explaining the Doppler technique, Professor Aneta Stefanovska from the Lancaster University said that the researchers used their understanding of blood flow dynamics to identify markers that consistently differed within blood vessels supplying malignant and normal moles.

By combining these new dynamical biomarkers, the scientists created a non-invasive test which has shown 100 percent sensitivity and 90.9 percent specificity (based on the number of people tested till now). “This means that melanoma is identified in all cases where it is present, and ruled out in 90.9% of cases where it is not”, Stefanovska concluded.