‘Fantastic’ new technology allows NHS doctors to quickly diagnose skin cancer

‘Fantastic’ new technology allows NHS doctors to quickly diagnose skin cancer

Skin cancer: Dr Chris outlines the signs of a melanoma

An “innovative” piece of technology could help tens of thousands of patients get a faster diagnosis for skin cancer.

The NHS is set to roll out a new service across all areas of England that will allow dermatologists to “double” the number of patients they can review in a day.

Known as a dermatoscope, it consists of a small lens the size of a 50 pence piece that can be attached to a phone camera.

This lens can then take high spec images of spots, moles or lesions on the skin.

Currently about 15 percent of NHS trusts in England are able to offer the teledermatology service, but it is scheduled to become available in every trust by the end of July this year.

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The use of dermatoscopes to take photos is also being expanded across GP practices – in the hope that people in more rural areas can get a quicker diagnosis without needing to travel to a specialist.

It comes as the number of skin cancer checks increased in the last year, with more than 600,000 people referred.

This was nine percent more than the previous year and around double compared to a decade ago.

The health service is also trialling the use of magnifying lenses that use artificial intelligence technology to assess skin lesions for cancer “within seconds”.

This is initially being used alongside clinician assessments, but it is hoped it will provide both faster and more accurate skin cancer detection.

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In a testing phase this device replaced the need for around 10,000 face-to-face appointments.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard explained the benefits of the new diagnostic techniques.

She said: “Record numbers of people are being checked and treated for cancer and thanks to efforts to ensure people come forward with worrying symptoms, we are now diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an early stage, increasing people’s chances of beating this cruel disease.

“There is no denying that increased demand has placed huge pressure on services, but championing the use of digital technology and new ways of working is key to reducing waits and is exactly why we are accelerating the use of teledermatology – it is a small piece of kit that has the potential to speed up diagnosis and treatment for tens of thousands with skin cancer.

“We are going a step further even and expanding the use of artificial intelligence lenses in teledermatology to diagnose skin cancers, and this is proving highly effective in areas that have trialled the technology so far.”

This was welcomed by one GP, Doctor Tom While – from Somerset. In an NHS release, he said: “Being able to get a swift and specialist opinion on a skin lesion or rash, and advice on treatment or local surgical options, often negates the need to refer the patient on to another hospital to see the specialist in person.

“This not only reduces waiting lists, but strongly benefits my patients who live in rural areas, saving them from long unnecessary journeys.

“If a patient does need to be referred on to a specialist, then the teledermatology service helps to streamline that process, ensuring the patient is seen in the correct clinic at the right time – it’s a fantastic service and an asset to rural general practice, and hard to imagine working without it”.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.

The most common sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.

It often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

The NHS says: “See a GP if you have any skin abnormality, such as a lump, ulcer, lesion or skin discolouration that has not healed after four weeks.”

Melanoma skin cancer is much more deadly. The most common signs include:

A new mole or a change – in size, shape or colour, in an existing mole

Other signs to look out for include moles that are:

  • Swollen and sore
  • Bleeding
  • Itchy
  • Crusty.

If you experience any symptoms you should speak to your GP.

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