Non-invasive imaging technology enables cancer monitoring

A new imaging technology that enables physicians to noninvasively view the network of tiny blood vessels beneath patients' skin has the potential of allowing them to diagnose, monitor and treat diseases such as skin cancer.

In a an article in the Optical Society's open access journal Biomedical Optics Express, European researchers from Medical University Vienna and the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich reported that they were able to use a technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to "see" underneath a patient's skin.

The advantage of OCT is that it's not only non-invasive, but provides high-resolution images at high speed, as well. It also shows patterns of blood vessels, which can provide diagnostic information about disease.

The researchers, led by Rainer Leitgeb of Ludwig-Maximilians University, tested the system on a variety of skin conditions, including two cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) on the face. In the case of BCC--when compared to healthy skin--the network of blood vessels supplying blood to the lesion showed significantly different patterns, the researchers found.

The images of BCC portray a dense network of blood vessels with "chaotic branching," with larger vessels close to skin surface. Those larger vessels branch out into smaller secondary vessels that supply blood to the tumor regions. The use of such images, along with information about blood flow rates and vascular structure, can, according to the researchers, provide insight into the metabolic demand of tumors during different stages.

According to an announcement issued by the Optical Society, the researchers believe this technology can be most effective in diagnosing and treating skin cancer. "We hope that improved in-depth diagnosis of tissue alterations due to disease might help to reduce the number of biopsies by providing better guidance," said Leitgeb, who added that physicians could also use the system to assess how quickly tumors might grow and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

For more:
- see the article in Biomedical Optics Express
- read the Optical Society of America's announcement

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