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FotoFinder: Early Detection Tool to Fight Melanoma

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, claiming the lives of 8,700 Americans each year. Melanoma can be cured when found at an early stage, but often it escapes detection masquerading as benign freckles or moles. It is particularly difficult to find melanomas on the skin of individuals with many freckles and moles. The Hoag Melanoma/Advanced Skin Cancer team, in alliance with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, was established to fight melanoma and other fatal skin cancers.

As part of its High Risk Clinic, Hoag has acquired a FotoFinder unit, an advanced imaging system, which scans the entire skin surface for areas that could potentially develop into melanoma. Until now, we relied solely on the naked eye of our experienced dermatologists to identify suspicious lesions. Acquiring this life-saving technology was made possible by a gift from Circle 1000.

The FotoFinder Automated Total Body Mapping (ATBM) system allows Hoag’s melanoma team to take high-resolution, digital total body images. The device analyzes pigmented lesions to indicate those which must be carefully examined by the dermatologist. The device incorporates a very high magnification microscope, called the dermatoscope, which the dermatologist uses to augment the power of vision.

The scans are stored in memory to allow comparisons of each lesion at a later time. “Cancer is change. The Fotofinder is the ultimate device to systematically detect changes in moles,” said Binh Ngo, M.D., a high-risk dermatologist from the Keck USC School of Medicine, and lead dermatologist for the High Risk Clinic. “Melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases, yet causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths,” she continued. “By offering the most innovative screening technology available, we are improving the odds of effectively treating this deadly cancer in our high-risk patients.”

Those lesions which do appear suspicious are biopsied. Through Hoag’s alliance with USC Norris, dermatopathologists with advanced training and experience in melanoma evaluate the biopsies to identify which lesions are malignant. “We go beyond vision, beyond the naked eye, beyond the microscope in our techniques analyzing the genes within the lesions to find characteristic patterns for melanoma,” continued Dr. Ngo. “When patients have a history of affected family members, we also study the genes to see if there is a hereditary component which could impact their children.”

Melanoma at an early stage is curable with surgery alone. The Melanoma/Advanced Skin Cancer Program’s goals are to prevent the disease and to detect it before it gets out of control. In those patients with more advanced melanoma, Hoag uses new immunotherapy and chemotherapy agents to also fight the spread.

With the FotoFinder, the melanoma team hopes to discover more cases in their earliest, most treatable form – preventing the disease from spreading throughout the body and giving patients the best odds at beating the disease and enjoying a high quality of life. “Hoag has made a big investment in bringing this device to Southern California,” Dr. Ngo added. “It is a wonderful resource for dermatologists and their patients in this area.”

The High Risk Clinic, which includes the use of the FotoFinder, is appropriate for high risk melanoma/advanced skin cancer patients, and is accessed by physician referral only. Please speak with your dermatologist to see if this is right for you.