A $100 Handheld Scanner Could Spot Skin Cancers in Seconds, Without a Painful Biopsy

Currently taking up a lab table, this mmWave scanning technology can provide cancer diagnoses in seconds — and miniaturization awaits.

A handheld tool, powered by a sensor fusion system and autonomous image classification, could help reduce the number of invasive skin biopsies carried out each year — replacing many with a simple millimeter-wave scanning process.

"We aren’t trying to get rid of biopsies," explains Negar Tavassolian, director of the Bio-Electromagnetics Laboratory at the Stevens Institute of Technology, of the device his team has created. "But we do want to give doctors additional tools and help them to make better decisions."

The low-cost handheld scanner developed at Stevens uses millimeter-wave imaging — the same system used in airport full-body scanners, but focusing on areas of interest on the patient's skin. Cancerous tissue reflects the rays differently to healthy tissue, providing the basis for a means to process the data into diagnoses — or at least to flag areas that would benefit from closer inspection.

Key to the device's performance is a sensor fusion system, which captures data coming from multiple antennas into a single high-bandwidth image — then passed through an image classification system to distinguish between benign and cancerous growths. Testing shows its worth: Offering an answer in seconds, rather than the days required for biopsies, the device showed identification of cancers with a 97 per cent sensitivity and 98 per cent specificity.

"There are other advanced imaging technologies that can detect skin cancers, but they’re big, expensive machines that aren’t available in the clinic," Tavassolian admits, but adds: "We're creating a low-cost device that’s as small and as easy to use as a cellphone, so we can bring advanced diagnostics within reach for everyone."

The next stage of the team's work: Miniaturization and cost-reduction, with a target of bringing what currently sits on a table in a lab down to a proposed cellphone-sized gadget with a production cost as low as $100 per unit. "The path forward is clear," Tavassolian claims, "and we know what we need to do."

The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Scientific Reports.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
Latest articles
Sponsored articles
Related articles
Latest articles
Read more
Related articles