Testing for Melanoma with Tape

“I hate needles.” Patients say this to me everyday. When you think about it, who “likes” needles?

Skin biopsies are relatively painless, but they still involve the dreaded needle and always leave scars. The trouble is we dermatologists cannot guarantee that a mole isn’t skin cancer without sending a biopsy for pathology. That is, until now.

Although it is not available in clinic yet, an almost incredible new innovation might allow us to determine if a mole is cancerous by testing the DNA of the mole. It sounds like it’s from an episode of CSI, but it’s real.

Melanomas have DNA (messager-RNA to be exact, but it’s a little complicated) that differentiate them from normal moles, so testing the mole for melanoma requires only a tiny sample of skin. Fortunately, no needles are needed — in fact, no sharp objects are necessary at all.

In order to check if a mole is skin cancer, the doctor will stick a pice of tape to the mole and pull it off. Although those of us with hairy chests might think it scary, it’s painless. The material that sticks to the tape is tested to see if there is evidence of melanoma.

So far, the test seems remarkably accurate. While it takes us doctors up to 40 skin biopsies to find one melanoma, the tape might find melanoma nearly every time. This is potentially an efficient (and cost-effective) way to diagnose skin cancer. I hope it inspires more innovations that provide increased patient comfort, accurate diagnoses, and cost savings.

May is melanoma awareness month. Have you checked yourself or someone you love for melanoma? Do it in May! 

Photo: Umpqa, flickr