New technology to detect melanoma

By Donna Duggan

New technology to detect melanoma

Melanoma is a big deal in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with more than 12,500 new cases diagnosed each year, and more than 1,500 deaths from the disease each year. In New Zealand it is the fourth most common cancer, with more than 4000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Despite the constant reminder to protect your from the sun, melanoma rates have doubled in the last 20 years. Skin cancers that are detected and treated early have the best outcome, and need less invasive treatment.

The first sign of a melanoma is usually the appearance of a new spot, or a change in an existing freckle or mole. The change may be in size, shape or colour and is normally noticed over several weeks or months. Make sure you check your entire body, including skin not normally exposed to the sun. Photograph any suspicious moles so that you can watch them over time to detect any changes.

The ABCDE guidelines provide a very useful way to monitor your skin and detect the early signs of melanoma. It is important that you seek expert advice if you notice any of the following:

  • A is for ASYMMETRY: One-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for BORDER irregularity: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for COLOUR variegation: The colour is not the same all over, but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white, or blue.
  • D is for DIAMETER: The area is larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.
  • E is for EVOLVING. Changes in size, shape, colour, elevation, or another trait (such as itching, bleeding or crusting).

New research from the Monell Center has found that odours from human skin cells can be used to identify melanoma. In addition to detecting the unique melanoma odour, the researchers also demonstrated that a nanotechnology

based sensor could differentiate melanoma cells from normal skin cells. Human skin produces numerous airborne chemical molecules known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, many of which are odorous.

“There is a potential wealth of information waiting to be extracted from examination of VOCs associated with various diseases, including cancers, genetic disorders, and viral or bacterial infections,” says George Preti, PhD, an organic chemist at Monell and one of the study’s leading researchers.

The researchers used sampling and analytical techniques to identify VOCs from melanoma cells at three stages of the disease as well as from normal melanocytes. Melanoma cells produced certain compounds not detected in VOCs from normal melanocytes. The findings suggest that non-invasive odour analysis may be a valuable technique in the detection and early diagnosis of human melanoma.


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