Cutting edge skin cancer trial starts at Cairns Hospital

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Dr Ilsphi Browne, Cairns Hospital Dermatologist; Bella Martin, Plastics Wound Nurse; and Alicia Sewcharran, Dermatology Research Nurse, standing in the state-the-art body scanner at Cairns Hospital.

Cairns Hospital has become the first regional hospital in Australia to take part in cutting edge research involving the early detection of skin cancer through 3D body scanning technology.

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service has taken delivery of a $540,000 Vectra 3D whole body scanner, under a world-first melanoma imaging and diagnosis trial.

Cairns will be one of 15 sites nationwide to have one of the machines, to form an inter-connected centre of excellence in diagnostic imaging of early melanoma across metropolitan and regional Australia.

The machines are part of the $10 million Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis, which have been funded by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. The centre itself is led by the University of Queensland in collaboration with Monash University, and the University of Sydney.

Cairns Hospital dermatologist Dr Ilsphi Browne said she was elated to be able to access this technology here locally at Cairns Hospital.

‘The machine’s use of 3D imaging technology will allow for objective and secure collection of photography of a person’s skin within a few milliseconds,’ she said.

‘From there, avatars of a person are generated, documenting all of their skin surfaces - except soles of their feet, scalp and areas covered by clothing – giving us unprecedented levels of detail.

‘Every time a patient revisits us, just as you are able to observe changes on a landscape through Google Earth, you can see how their skin changes as well, particularly any suspect or new lesions.’

She said the photography, coupled with artificial intelligence, could eventually reduce the need for a clinician to examine the images.

‘This trial aims to train AI (Artificial Intelligence) to alert us to any potential melanomas, reducing the need for clinicians to spend time combing through images – or a person’s skin – ourselves,’ she said.

‘Having a skin scan could become as commonplace as a mammogram and go a long way to detecting melanoma early and potentially saving lives.’

CHHHS Executive Director Medical Services, Dr Don Mackie, said the Health Service was proud to be involved in such an important clinical trial.

‘Far North Queensland has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in Australia, so our participation in this trial is critical,’ he said.

He said the clinical trial was one of more than 50 currently underway at the Health Service.

‘Our research output as a Health Service keeps increasing, year on year,’ he said.

‘Far North Queensland’s population is growing, and in order for us to address local health problems such as skin cancer, we need to come with innovative solutions.

‘This is just one of our solutions that will be of huge benefit not only to our patients, but also our clinicians.

‘We expect to attract further high-calibre research such as this as we steadily transition towards University Hospital Status, which in turn will add to our existing highly skilled clinicians and researchers wanting to live and work in our great region.’

Fast facts

  • The Vectra WB360 produces a detailed 3D image of a patient which replicates the skin surface in complete detail.
  • The machine is so precise that it can highlight changes that might occur in a patient’s moles in the time between the scans, making it easier for the clinician to assess
  • Each image taken by the machine has a digital quality of 1.5GB, which is about 1000 times bigger than a standard photo taken on a digital camera.
  • Every year in Australia, skin cancers account for about 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers.
  • Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer (melanoma) in the world, with more than 3600 people estimated to be diagnosed each year.