Smartphone microscope spots skin cancer

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New York, March 16: 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.

cancer

"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 (Rs. 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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