Promising Advancements in Skin Cancer Detection through Laser Use

A laser discovering tumor cells in bloodstreams could help detect and treat melanoma patients.
Fabienne Lang
A device that shines a laser on blood vessels (here, in a mouse) can detect scarce circulating cells.Ekaterina Galanzha/ University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

A new medical study by a team of researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has developed a laser system that detects tumor cells in the bloodstream, or Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs). 

This invention may be extremely useful, specifically for skin cancer patients as CTCs aren't as easily discoverable in the blood cells as colon, breast of prostate cancer cells. 


Tumors release cells into the bloodstream, where they can spread cancer to other parts of the body. This new device is able to detect these cells in the blood. 

Discovering cancer cells through the skin

“It’s fascinating that it’s possible to detect these circulating tumor cells literally through the skin,” said medical oncologist Klaus Pantel of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, who was not part of the study.

There is still work to do on this device though, cautions Pantel.

Typically, when looking for CTCs in cancer patients, blood is drawn in order to observe it. These cells however, are not as easily detectable in the early stages of cancer, and they don't work for melanoma as its cells aren't detectable through tests used for finding CTCs. 

This is why the team of researchers, led by Vladimir Zharov combined a laser with an ultrasound to create what is now called the "Cytophone" - which detects cells acoustically. 

It works by harmlessly heating and thus lighting up blood vessels near the surface of the skin, and thus melanoma cells also slightly heat up and show up. This heat creates a minute acoustic wave, which is then picked up by the ultrasound. 

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Potential assistance in curing melanoma

What the team was pleasantly surprised to find, was that by heating up the laser, still within safe parameters, they displayed that a patient's CTC levels dropped after an hour--the device was in fact destroying the cancerous cells. 

It doesn't look likely to cure cancer, but it can help in reducing the cell counts. 

"The device could be used to follow whether an anticancer drug is working—if it is, a patient’s CTC levels should go down," said Zharov. Him and his team have now patented the Cytophone and created a company in the hope of developing it further. 

There is a lot of promise with this discovery, however, questions still arise as the team continues to perfect the machine.

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