According to the American Cancer Society, more than two million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. More than 11,000 Americans die each year from skin cancer, but when detected early, skin cancer can have a cure rate of 99 percent.
While exposure to the sun is the most common trigger for skin cancer, it is in no way the only one. Today we also know that industrial pollution, which damages the ozone layer, plays an important role in the development of skin cancer. Genetic predisposition to the disease also contributes to the statistics.
Most skin cancers are basal and squamous cell carcinomas – these are non-melanoma skin cancers, which, if detected early, have a very high recovery rate. The other type of skin cancer is called melanoma and it is the most deadly form of the disease.
Today, the most widely used screening procedure for skin cancer is a visual examination, first by the patient and then by the doctor. Unfortunately, such an examination is subjective and sometimes results in further problems:
Physicians sometimes use dermascopes, hand-held magnifying glasses with a light, to illuminate questionable areas and determine whether or not a growth warrants a biopsy – the removal of a tissue sample for diagnostic purposes. However, the accuracy of this method is about 80-85% and it is dependent on the experience of the examiner.
The only way to really know if you have skin cancer is to undergo a biopsy. And biopsies have limitations. For example, they require an incision to collect a tissue sample, they are costly, they can be painful and it takes several days to get results. Therefore, there is a growing demand for a cost-effective, non-intrusive, painless, early diagnostic system.
Other methods of spectral analysis and imaging skin anomalies are being developed such as optical spectral and thermal imaging, visible and infrared, electromagnetic microwave, acoustic, magnetic, ultraviolet and x-ray.