UT engineers develop skin cancer detector

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease, and Melanoma is its deadliest version. It claims more than 10,000 American lives a year.

Texans ranks third in the country developing Melanoma, with our sunny days and active lifestyles. But now a new tool is being built at the University of Texas to detect it.

Typically, physicians and dermatologists spot a suspicious lesion and order a biopsy, cutting some skin away to be analyzed by a pathologist.

Now, UT’s biomedical engineering department has a prototype for a small, pencil like device that can better scan your skin, covering a large area.

“The primary problem is most of these biopsies end up being benign or normal,” Professor James Tunnell said. “In other words, we get cut much more than we need to. The ratio for that in Melanoma is 25-to-1… some reports even say 50-to-1.”

“The idea is if you had a device that increased the accuracy of that you can do less unnecessary biopsies,” he added.

Most patients can only tolerate two or three biopsies at a time.  The new alternative has the ability to cover more area, is less expensive and less invasive.

“The patient usually has insurance and may not notice the cost up front,” Tunnell said. “It is a huge cost to the healthcare system. Multiple billions of dollars are being spent on biopsies that potentially we don’t need.”

The average biopsy costs approximately $300. The new spectography could run $10 to $20 a visit.

UT is launching a three year clinical study in the Austin area, and the device could get the fast track to general use after that.

Skin cancer can depend on your family genetic history, your exposure to sun and the type of skin you have.

According to the Texas Medical Association, one-in-three Texans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.

Melanoma makes up only 4% of all forms of skin cancer, but accounts for 80% of the deaths.

In Texas, there will be a projected 3,900 new cases of skin cancer in 2014, with 547 deaths.

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