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‘Virtual skin biopsy’ allows doctors to instantly detect skin cancer


A skin biopsy is usually needed when you have a suspect or abnormal area of skin, which can involve a small sample of your tissue to be removed, however new technology could bypass the need for invasive diagnostic procedures.

The Vivascope uses a focused laser beam to illuminate a specific point within the skin and measures the reflection of light from that particular point. This ‘virtual’ biopsy can give dermatologists instant results of a suspect mole or an area of skin, rather than having to wait for the biopsy to be examined under a microscope.

Dermatological surgeon, Dr Howard Stevens, introduced the innovative technology to the UK for the first time in his clinic The Skin Care® Network.

Dr Stevens explains that skin cancer is actually the most common cancer in the UK today, with numbers growing every year.

“This new technology is a real step forward in diagnostics.  The sooner a patient has a diagnosis, the sooner he or she can begin treatment if there is a problem.

“But often there is no problem and we will have avoided the discomfort of a surgical biopsy and then more anxiety whilst the patient waits for the results.”

The biopsies are stored digitally, making referrals and further consultations much smoother, rather than conventional pathology slides.

“What this new technology does is to provide a fast diagnosis, reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies and we can monitor a suspect area of the skin – painlessly and non-invasively – over long periods.  It can provide a diagnosis where there have been uncertainties before and it can help to monitor treatments and also show us when treated skin has returned to normal.”

“Our patients have been unanimous in their positive reaction to ‘virtual biopsies’. So while skin biopsy will remain the gold standard in some cases, confocal microspcopy can provide an additional layer of information to avoid an unnecessary biopsy.”

The rising demand for new technology has led Dr Stevens opening a new clinic at 204 Fulham Road, Chelsea in addition to a clinic in Barnet, North London.

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