MelaFindRecently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved a device that will allow dermatologists a less invasive option to screen patients for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The concept behind this unique tool, named MelaFind, is to examine worrisome moles and help dermatologists assess whether a biopsy is needed.

As with any cancer, early detection is the best hope for a patient’s survival. Doctors hope MelaFind will help them determine which atypical lesions  might be cause for concern. The device works by scanning a lesion with a small camera housed in a shell that looks a small hair dryer. The image is then sent back to a computer program that uses “predefined image analysis algorithms,” to determine a positive or negative result. A positive result flags the lesion for immediate biopsy. Dermatologists are trained to look for changes in size, shape and color of lesions but admittedly, some can be a tough call.

Melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged 25-29, and only 26% of women in the US have had their skin checked by a dermatologist. In theory, the system has merit but nothing new gets rolled out in the medical community without some cautious concern, and MelaFind is no different.  Some dermatologists, including one who initially reviewed MelaFind for the FDA a few years ago, worry that doctors will forego tried and true methods for examining lesions, which include the naked eye and a high-powered magnifier called a dermatoscope. They’re concerned MelaFind will create a false sense of security.

Proponents of MelaFind say they like having the ability to look at the depths of layers on an atypical mole, rather than just a topical view. Other doctors praise MelaFind for possibly eliminating unnecessary biopsies.

Currently, the use of MelaFind is only approved for dermatologists who undergo an intensive training course. A visit to the MelaFind website shows several dermatologists across the US are already using the equipment. A map on the site can direct you to the nearest MelaFind system nearest you. If you decide to use the technology, be prepared to pay. Patients pay $150.00 out of pocket for a single MelaFind scan. It is not currently covered by insurance.

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