Smartphone Microscope Spots Skin Cancer

NEW YORK: In settings where traditional microscope is not available, smartphones can be used as microscopes to detect skin cancer with a reasonable accuracy, new research has found.

"Doctors in some remote areas don't have access to the high-powered microscopes we use to evaluate skin samples," said study lead author Richard Jahan-Tigh, assistant professor at The University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston (UTHealth), US.

"Doctors there could conceivably use their smartphones to photograph growths and forward them for examination," Jahan-Tigh noted.

When it comes to the diagnosis of cancer, smartphone microscopes are reasonably accurate, showed the findings published in the journal Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine.

Between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year, the study pointed out.

A smartphone microscope can be made with a three mm ball lens, a tiny piece of plastic to hold the ball lens over the smartphone lens and tape to grip everything in place. 

A ball lens costs about $14 ( 943) at an electronics store and is typically used for laser optics.

Here is how a smartphone microscope works. 

A doctor or technician holds a smartphone microscope over a skin sample that has been placed on a slide and waits for the sample to come into focus. 

The doctor then either reads the sample if he or she is a pathologist, or takes a photo and emails it to a pathologist for interpretation.

For the study, the researchers examined 1,021 slides of specimens.

"We did a head-to-head comparison with a traditional light microscope and while the smartphone microscope wasn't as accurate it resulted in the detection of about 90 percent of the non-melanoma skin cancers," Jahan-Tigh said. 

"With the smartphone microscope, the detection rate for melanomas was 60 percent," Jahan-Tigh pointed out.

"This is a good first step to show that smartphone microscopy has a future in dermatology and pathology," Jahan-Tigh said.

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Source: IANS