Doctors could be able to 'see' under patients' skin and diagnose cancer without using invasive techniquesCould eliminate need for biopsiesPrecise system shows high resolution 3D images
10:03 GMT, 25 September 2012
What lies beneath: The high-resolution images of blood vessels just under the skin could eliminate the need for biopsies
A groundbreaking optics technique could allow doctors to see under the outer layer of patients' skin and detect diseases including cancer.
High resolution 3D images map out the network of blood vessels beneath the skin, potentially eliminating the need for invasive techniques such as biopsies.
The research, published today in Optical Society journal Biomedical Optics Express, could help doctors better diagnose, monitor, and treat skin cancer and skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis.
Researchers from Medical University Vienna (MUW) in Austria and the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, used a technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to 'see' under the skin.
They tested their system on various patches of skin, including a healthy human palm, a forearm affected by allergy-induced eczema, dermatitis on the forehead, and basal cell carcinoma – the most common type of skin cancer – on the face.
The network of vessels supplying blood to lesions showed significantly altered patterns to healthy skin.
'The condition of the vascular network carries important information on tissue health and its nutrition,' said Rainer Leitgeb, lead researcher at MUW.
'Currently, the value of this information is not utilised to its full extent.'
Ophthalmologists have used OCT on eyes since the 1990s and the technology has recently attracted increased interest from dermatologists.
Tiny differences: (Left) An OCT image of a healthy blood vessel and (right) larger vessels supplying a carcinoma show that disease is present
OCT has many advantages over other imaging techniques. It is non-invasive and provides high-resolution images – to within 1mm – at high speed.
It is typically used to show tissue structure, but can also reveal the pattern of blood vessels, which carry important clues about disease.
The researchers at MUW are the first to use OCT to look at the network of blood vessels in human skin that feed cancerous skin lesions.
'We hope that improved in-depth diagnosis of tissue alterations due to disease might help to reduce the number of biopsies by providing better guidance,' said Dr Leitgeb.
The system could also be used by doctors to assess how quickly a tumour is likely to grow and spread, as well as to monitor the effectiveness of treatments such as topical chemotherapy.