New technology detects skin cancer almost instantly

In 2003, at age 27, Steven Scholze was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers. He had a mole on his back examined by his family doctor who didn’t think it was anything serious, but suggested a biopsy just to be sure. The biopsy confirmed melanoma.

Although very thankful for the lifesaving diagnosis, now as a nine-year melanoma survivor and a family man, Scholze lives every day with the nagging concern that he could develop a secondary melanoma.

“An early diagnosis gives you the best chance against melanoma,” he explains. “I recently moved to Vancouver Island and was on a waiting list for a regular check up with a dermatologist for almost a year. Given the growing shortage of dermatologists in Canada and the long wait times, I desperately want a device that can help doctors quickly scan any suspicious spots and provide an accurate and immediate diagnosis. For me, such a device would mean peace of mind.”

A recent development in this field has given Scholze good news: The made-in-Canada Verisante Aura has been approved by Health Canada, and is slated to start production soon. Scholze says he was so convinced of the potential for this device to make a difference for people like him that he even invested his own money to support the technology.

Developed for more than 10 years at the BC Cancer Agency and tested on about 1,000 lesions at the Skin Care Centre at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), the device uses a light ray to assess a suspect skin lesion as cancerous or benign in less than two seconds. When available for sale in Canada in the second half of 2012, it should be able to help patients avoid unnecessary biopsies and doctors detect more early-stage cancers that sometimes go undiagnosed until too late.

“With skin cancer on the rise and an aging population, I am pleased that we now have an objective tool to assist medical professionals in diagnosing skin cancer quickly and accurately,” said Dr. Harvey Lui, one of the co-inventors of the Verisante Aura. Dr. Lui is also a professor and head of the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia and is the director of the world-renowned Skin Care Centre at VGH.

Early detection and diagnosis save lives. When melanoma is diagnosed early, data shows that patients have a 99 per cent chance of survival. In the late stages, it drops to 15 per cent.