SINGAPORE: Researchers from Singapore and Germany have developed a new 3D skin imaging technique, which could prove to be a game changer in the detection of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the sixth-most prevalent cancer among men, and the seventh among women in Singapore, and largely occurs on the head and neck.
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, there were 2,664 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in Singapore between 2008 and 2012.
Non-melanoma skin cancer often occurs in skin that is most exposed to the sun.
The multi-spectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) technique uses a combination of light pulses and ultrasound waves to create 3D images that accurately detect a tumour deep in the skin.
The non-invasive procedure is able to image tumours up to 30mm beneath the skin’s surface. This compares with a maximum of 3mm for current imaging techniques.
“This technology uses light to create sound, and upon creating sound, you create images in three dimension," said Professor Malini Olivo, director of Biophotonics at A*STAR's Singapore Bioimaging Consortium.
Comparatively, the imaging done with only light is not as deep as that created using both light and sound, she added.
"Now, you can image very much deeper into tissue without using X-rays, radio isotopes or radioactivity,” said Prof Olivo.
MSOT also makes it much easier for surgeons to locate and remove the tumour.
“This technology is very useful for us now to map out the skin cancer, to understand how big, how deep it is, so that the surgeons can know how to cut out the skin cancer, individualised to the patient,” says Professor Steven Thng, executive director at the Skin Research Institute of Singapore.
The pre-surgery scan can also shorten surgical time during Mohs micrographic surgery - one of the main techniques currently used to treat skin cancer - by removing one layer of tissue at a time.
“In the past, we always take a 3mm or 5mm margin around the tumour, depending on how aggressive the cancer is," said Prof Thng. However, the margins may not accurately encompass the cancer, thus leaving behind cells that can lead to a recurrence of the skin cancer. The margins may also result in a big scar, said Prof Thng.
The MSOT technique is the result of an extensive collaboration between A*STAR's Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, the Technical University of Munich, the National Skin Centre and the Skin Research Institute of Singapore.
It has been tested on 55 patients with an 80 per cent accuracy rate. Prof Thng hopes to raise the accuracy rate to at least 90 per cent in trials carried out this year.