Technological advances to prevent skin cancer

Skin cancer is more common than we may think: across the world, it accounts for one in every three cancers diagnosed. Fortunately, technological advances are helping to fight the disease: using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in combination with an ordinary smartphone can make diagnosis much faster and easier; and there are other technologies shaping a brighter future for skin cancer prevention and treatment.

Skin cancer is dangerous and the risks are increasing: it rapidly metastasizes to distant organs and cases rise as populations get older. The good news is that skin cancer is treatable when caught early, which is why speedy and accurate diagnosis is so crucial.

The standard procedure for skin cancer diagnosis is a biopsy; yet not only are biopsies costly, they also carry associated health risks. Requiring highly skilled professionals, these procedures can be invasive, may involve sedation or general anesthesia, and take time to heal – especially if there are any complications around the biopsy site.

An alternative to biopsies

One way of reducing the need for biopsies, already common in dermatology, is to use a dermatoscope to enlarge the view of a skin lesion for examination and diagnosis by lesion classification. Recent advances in smartphone camera technology mean that dermoscopies can be done using a smartphone via a special attachment. As a result, patients can record images of their own skin lesions.

In addition, by training an AI system to accurately classify skin lesions, skin cancer and other conditions can be diagnosed without the need initially to involve a specialist. So, imagine if a patient identifies a suspicious skin problem, they could contact their general practitioner or dermatologist for a remote teleconsultation session. During this, or even beforehand, the patient could perform their own dermoscopy using their smartphone and send the image to the AI system for classification; from there, the doctor could make a decision on diagnosis and treatment, and the patient could continue to monitor their condition with further telemonitoring consultations.

Exploring AI-driven dermoscopy

So how realistic is all of this? Well, the technology is available and some newer smartphone cameras don’t even require the extra dermoscopy attachment. As far as AI is concerned, with the involvement of AI, data science, doctors and medical imaging experts, it’s possible to set up a system to collect, clean and prepare the data, train the AI model, then test its effectiveness for further improvements in speed and accuracy.

Atos has already conceptualized how AI can be ‘trained’ using a bank of images to enable faster and remote classification that can free-up valuable clinical time for diagnosis and treatment.

Preventing and treating skin cancer

Looking more broadly, new technologies and data can make major contributions, not just around the diagnosis of skin cancer and other conditions, but also their prevention and treatment. The Internet of Things (IoT), for example, and the explosion in the use of wearables and health sensors mean that these devices could commonly be used to measure sun exposure and warn wearers if they are at risk of imminent sun damage. Big data also has an important role to play; combining and analyzing population and genomics data with environmental factors, such as whether people live in sunnier places or work outside a lot, can aid very early detection of people most at risk.

As far as treatment is concerned, additive manufacturing – in this case, 3D printing of skin – could be used where skin needs to be replaced after surgery. Similarly futuristic is the use of nanoparticles that could be incorporated into sunscreens to make them more effective and in treatment, for example, by deploying nanoparticles that travel in the patient’s body to where they are needed.

Turning potential into reality

Connected IoT devices and trained AI diagnostics are already mature and it’s only a matter of time before 3D printing technology is applied in this way. And nanoparticles? Advances in this vast and fascinating area of clinical research and healthcare indicate that such breakthroughs are in our near future.

So while the risks of skin cancer are increasing, medical science and technology solutions are emerging not only to assist clinical specialists to improve treatment, but also to empower general practitioners and citizens themselves to act fast and prevent problems from happening.

The conceptualization of our AI-driven dermoscopy application is one of a number of ideas and projects we are advancing at Atos’ HPC, AI and Quantum Life Sciences Center of Excellence in Cambridge. Through the Center, Atos is proud to be working with over 40 health, bio and pharma organizations, finding new opportunities to help improve clinical outcomes by making this and other solutions a reality for everyday health and care.

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About Fiona Blazsovsky
Life Sciences Expert at Atos

Fiona has a BSc in Biomedical Engineering and is currently working on her MSc in Medical Informatics while being part of the Atos AI, HPC and Quantum Life Sciences Centre of Excellence as a Life Sciences Expert. She is passionate to apply her biomedical knowledge to push the convergence between technology and life sciences. For that she enjoys interactions with specialists from the different areas to contribute to Atos' footprint in the Life sciences area.