Detecting skin cancer in seconds

St John’s Dermatology Institute at Guy’s and St Thomas’ is the UK’s largest referral centre for skin cancer, and has the best equipped skin imaging unit in the UK.

Close up of medical machinery for early cancer detection
VivaScope, a giant magnifying glass that detects skin cancer swiftly

St John’s Dermatology Institute at Guy’s and St Thomas’ is the UK’s largest referral centre for skin cancer, and has the best-equipped skin imaging unit in the UK.

Only a handful of other centres around the world have comparable research and development capability. A new piece of technology, the VivaScope, is currently being tested there.

It is a giant magnifying glass that can detect skin cancer in seconds. Currently, skin cancer is diagnosed by physical examination and biopsy. Biopsy is a procedure where part or all of the spot is removed and sent to a laboratory. It may be done by a doctor or through a referral to a dermatologist or surgeon.

Detection in seconds

In contrast, the VivaScope machine instantly produces images of skin layers up to a depth of two millimetres using a harmless, high-powered laser. The doctor places a small pad on the mole or affected skin, then directs the laser at the area. The resulting image is so detailed that it's effectively a non-invasive biopsy and avoids the need for an invasive biopsy that can leave scars. Scans then highlight abnormality in the cells.

Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Early detection is crucial as skin cancer can spread quickly unless it's removed. The number of British cases of skin cancer has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years, with melanoma the most deadly type, killing about 2,000 people in the UK annually. Doctors maintain that early detection of skin cancer is vital.

Traditional methods of detecting and treating skin cancer often require multiple visits to the hospital. The VivaScope will deliver an immediate diagnosis, enabling patients to be examined, diagnosed and treated in a single visit, which will reduce both stress and the time it takes to receive treatment. Guy’s and St Thomas’ is the first hospital in Britain to introduce the VivaScope test, which could save hundreds of lives.

Leading the way

Oliver Smith, Director of Strategy, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, says: ‘Our recent investment in the VivaScope for the St John’s Institute enables it to pursue world-leading research and clinical trials that will greatly advance our understanding of skin melanoma and its treatment.’

The Institute is working with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust’s medical physics department to test the technology within a clinical setting. Once it has been validated for use, it will improve the care of patients attending the centre for skin disorders.

This piece of equipment was bought thanks to donations. Being able to purchase this kind of equipment keeps us at the forefront of medical innovation and truly enhances the care we can offer.

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