Researchers say that the most difficult job for doctors is determining if the skin in question is an innocent mole or something much more dangerous.
"Research shows doctors can pick up melanomas accurately only two-thirds of the time. So that that means we're missing a third of melanomas every time we see a patient," said Dr. Ellen Marmur of Mount Sinai Medical Center. "The consequence is lethal."
But now, an experimental new device, called MelaFind, promises to remove much of the guesswork.
It uses the same pattern recognition software that allows a military satellite to zoom in and identify enemy targets.
A digital camera records the "suspect" patch of skin through different bands of light, some that even penetrate the skins surface.
A computer then compares those images to thousands of similar images, both malignant and benign.
"In a clinical trial of 1,500 patients, the device accurately detected 98.3 percent of melanomas," said Dr. Darrell Rigel of New York University School of Medicine.
"That's much better than even the best dermatologists could do on their own," Rigel adds.
Researchers say that MelaFind also reduced unnecessary biopsies by 90 percent, which many patients approve of.
"Anything that would be able to help my doctor more accurately detect melanoma, I would be the first one in line to try it out," said melanoma patient Kim Hunt.
The Food and Drug Administration has put the new device on the fast track for approval, with a decision expected in the next six months.
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