April 15, 2021 by John Fernandez
Spotting Skin Cancer: Groundbreaking Body Imaging Technology Now at Miami Cancer Institute
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for — such as atypical moles — you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early, making treatment easier and more effective.
But finding suspicious skin growths early, when they’re small and have not spread is a significant challenge to most people. Now, a revolutionary new technology is available in a single machine that uses 92 cameras. It takes simultaneous images of the body, and then creates a 3D model that replicates the surface of the skin in about one minute.
It is known as the Vectra and it’s located at Miami Cancer Institute’s new Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Clinic. The Vectra instantly compiles images into a single picture where every blemish on the skin can be seen, zeroed-in on and assessed by physicians. It is the only such state-of-the-art machine in Florida, and one of only six in the U.S. — and one of 12 in the world.
“This photographic process is groundbreaking. It quickly gives us a detailed look at a patient’s entire skin surface,” said Jill Waibel, M.D., Miami Cancer Institute dermatologist. “It also allows us to map out and track any changes in lesions or moles. When detecting skin cancer, the sooner we can identify a problem, the better the outcome for the patient.”
The Institute’s Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Clinic at Miami Cancer Institute will focus on early detection and treatment of melanoma, in addition to treating patients with all types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel Cell tumors and other rare tumors of the skin. The program’s team of experts includes dermatologists, surgical and medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and plastic and reconstructive surgeons.
The Vectra creates a 3-D record of the entire surface of a person’s skin, allowing dermatologists to track any changes in the appearance of moles or lesions that could indicate early stages of melanoma. The Vectra is completely safe and the process takes only a few minutes. A patient stands in the middle of an array of 46 digital cameras, and the cameras all take photos simultaneously.
Within minutes, a computer uses special software to process and assemble the images into a 3-D avatar — a digital model of the patient — showing all of his or her lesions. The Vectra provides dermatologists with detailed “baseline imaging” which can be updated regularly to determine if further testing or other procedures or necessary. Asymmetry, which is when one half of a mole doesn’t much the other, can be spotted by this technology even in growths barely visible in basic doctor examinations.
Asymmetrical moles represent a warning sign for melanoma. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for melanoma. The first signs can appear in one or more atypical moles.
“You can zoom in on moles, and you can compare them year to year (or more frequently),” says Dr. Waibel. “The device tells you if there are asymmetrical borders. It’s an amazing tool that will help us detect all lesions and skin cancer.”
There are a number of different non-cancerous skin lesions that appear on the skin in different shapes, sizes and colors. Many of them are common, and they include moles, freckles, skin tags, lentigines and seborrheic keratoses. Moles are growths on the skin that are typically brown or black. They can develop anywhere on the body. Most moles are benign, but some can be cancerous. If moles change in appearance over time, or if they ever bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful, you should consult your doctor.
Your doctor can check your skin carefully during a routine cancer-related check-up. Moreover, physicians recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.
The Vectra’s total body photography can play a significant role in the early detection of melanoma, researchers have already found. This “technology could play a role in reinforcing the importance of ongoing preventative behaviors and self-skin checks, in addition to being a tool for the early detection of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers,” according to a study last year published in Frontiers in Medicine.
Here are tips for the best protection against skin cancer:
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 daily. Reapply at least every two hours when outside (you need an ounce to cover most of the body.)
- Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with total UV protection.
- Avoid over-exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., if possible. And definitely avoid getting a sunburn.
- Do monthly self-examinations of your skin and see a physician once a year for a professional screening exam. You can use online resources from skincancer.org to help you recognize moles or growths on your skin that may be developing into skin cancer.
- Stay away from tanning salons. Just one indoor tanning session can raise the risk of melanoma by 20 percent.