Mobile phone-based microscopy can be used to diagnose skin cancer accurately in settings where a traditional microscope is not available, according to a new study.
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston (UTHealth), said smartphone microscopes could improve the detection of skin cancer in developing countries.
"Doctors in some remote areas don't have access to the high-powered microscopes we use to evaluate skin samples," said Richard Jahan-Tigh, assistant professor of dermatology at UTHealth.
"Doctors there could use their smartphones to photograph growths and forward them for examination," said Jahan-Tigh.
"We did a head-to-head comparison with a traditional light microscope and while the smartphone microscope wasn't as accurate it resulted in the detection of about 90 per cent of the non-melanoma skin cancers," said Jahan-Tigh, who conducted the study with colleagues at McGovern Medical School and Harvard Medical School.
"With the smartphone microscope, the detection rate for melanomas was 60 per cent," he said.
"This is a good first step to show that smartphone microscopy has a future in dermatology and pathology," Jahan-Tigh said.
A smartphone microscope can be made with a 3 mm ball lens, a tiny piece of plastic to hold the ball lens over the smartphone lens and tape to grip everything in place. A ball lens costs about USD 14 at an electronics store and is typically used for laser optics, researchers said. A doctor or technician holds a smartphone microscope over a skin sample that has been placed on a slide and waits for the sample to come into focus. The doctor then either reads the sample if he or she is a pathologist, or takes a photo and emails it to a pathologist for interpretation.
Researchers examined 1,021 slides of specimens, which had a total of 136 basal cell carcinomas, 94 squamous cell carcinomas and 15 melanomas.
The smartphone microscope was used to pick up 95.6 per cent of the basal cell carcinomas and 89 per cent of squamous cell carcinomas.
Researchers said that mobile phone-based microscopy has excellent performance characteristics for the inexpensive diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancers in a setting where a traditional microscope is not available.