A New Screening Tool for Melanoma

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Using a specialized light along with digital images, dermatologists may soon be able to screen for signs of cancer in moles. MelaFind can be used to look under the skin, giving dermatologists a "second opinion" about whether a mole should be removed and biopsied.


    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new device for use on skin growths that do not have obvious signs of cancer but are nonetheless worrisome to doctors. While some moles show specific signs of possible cancer, such as uneven borders, different colors or changing appearance, others do not. Presently, dermatologists are faced with the decision of deciding which skin growths should be removed and biopsied to screen for cancer.

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    MelaFind, the new device, takes multi-colored images of a skin growth including how it looks below the skin and compares it to a large database of images. This information can be used by dermatologists to decide whether a specific growth shows signs of cancer.


    A study published in the Archives of Dermatology showed a high success rate for MelaFind. According to the study, of the 127 melanomas removed from patients, the device had correctly recommended biopsies in 125. The results for ruling out melanoma were not as impressive but still showed more accurate results than relying only on a doctor's opinion. The study was sponsored by the manufacturer of MelaFind.


    The MelaFind is not expected to be a definitive test for cancer, nor is it meant to replace a doctor's expert opinion, but instead is a tool to help doctor's make more informed decisions. It is not known whether the device, when used on a regular basis will result in less biopsies or better cancer detection.

    Originally, the FDA did not approve the device for use by dermatologists, feeling that it may give dermatologists a false sense of security and thereby cause potentially cancerous lesions to be ignored or that doctor's would misinterpret the results. Another concern was that the device would be available to general doctors and used as a diagnostic tool rather than a screening tool.  Because of these concerns, the device was approved only for dermatologists and specialized training to use the device is mandatory.


    The device has been approved for use only by dermatologists and any doctor wanting to use the device must undergo intensive training on how to use it. The manufacturer expects this to be a slow process, with only 200 devices being rolled out next year and only to dermatologists on the East coast in the beginning. The device will be leased to doctors for $7,500 (one-time) and will cost the patient $150 (which, at this time, will not be covered by insurance). Once it is established in the East coast, the company will slowly roll out the device to other parts of the country.




    "New Device Uses Light to Screen for Melanoma," 2011, Nov 2, Matthew Perrone, MSNBC.com


Published On: November 03, 2011