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Sniff and snuff out skin cancer

Tuesday 9 July, 2013 by Harry Milonas

More than 2000 Australians died from skin cancer in 2011. This is a particularly tragic statistic because if detected early, 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated. The later skin cancer is presented for treatment, the less likely the chances of survival. So a recent article unveiling the potential for new screening technology made us a little excited.

Scientists at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Sense Center and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a new method of skin cancer screening technology requiring little more than the olfactory senses provided by the ordinary human nose.

The as yet untitled piece of portable nanotech sensor technology that will empower this breakthrough exists thanks to the subtle yet noticeable differences in odours between the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of normal skin cells and the VOCs related to melanoma. By employing the sensor to painlessly target and non-invasively sample odourous areas of skin on the body, doctors worldwide could soon be screening patients through the sole power of their sniffer.

These technological developments will come as a breath of fresh air to folks fretting their skin checks. Cold metal on bare skin is not a pleasant feeling! Indeed, perhaps the most noteworthy takeaway is that the increased ease, efficiency and peace of mind for patients may also increase the rate at which skin cancer is detected and prevented. Certainly a result not to be sniffed at … or rather, the other way around in this case.

As promising as these developments are for the future of cancer screening, they are still some time away before becoming common practice. While we’re not suggesting you cut off your nose to spite your skin, checking for skin cancers and changes to your skin starts at home.

It’s important to get familiar with your skin. Take extra care to check your body for any changes in mole colour, shape or size. Enlist the help of someone you trust to have a look at any hard to see areas and get a second opinion if you are unsure. If anything changes or looks unusual, see your GP immediately. For more information on how you can check yourself for skin cancer, visit SunSmart.

What do you think? Is the human shnoz a promising piece of health screening technology, or does it fly in the face of established medical procedures?

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