Online Dermatologist > New Research: Skin Cancer Detection with Geological Techniques

New Research Spotlight: Advancing Skin Cancer Detection with Geological Techniques

by | May 20, 2024 | Blog, Research, Skin Cancer

High-tech laboratory setting showcasing isotope analysis for skin cancer detection, with scientists examining atomic structures and analyzing data on computer screens

Skin Cancer: The Global Epidemic Affecting Millions

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other organs. Skin, being the largest organ of our body, is frequently affected by cancer, making skin cancer one of the most common types worldwide. Skin cancers can be classified into melanoma and non-melanoma types. Melanoma, the deadliest type, accounts for only 1% of cases, while non-melanoma cancers include basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and sebaceous gland carcinoma (SGC).[1]

This groundbreaking discovery offers significant promise for the field of dermatology, particularly in the early detection of skin cancer. By identifying unique ‘fingerprints’ of cancer cells through geological techniques, researchers can potentially differentiate skin cancer cells from normal cells much earlier. This early detection is crucial in improving treatment outcomes and survival rates for skin cancer patients.


Genetic and Environmental Causes of Skin Cancer

A common question among skin cancer patients and the general public is, “What caused my cancer?” Skin carcinomas often result from genetic mutations induced by UV radiation, X-rays, and other carcinogens such as pitch, tar, mineral oil, and inorganic arsenic. Additionally, genetic disorders and immunosuppressive conditions can predispose individuals to develop skin cancer.[2] These carcinogens alter the DNA of skin cells, enabling them to proliferate uncontrollably and invade other tissues. Understanding these genetic mutations, also known as Cancer “fingerprints,” particularly relevant to skin cancer, can lead to more targeted prevention and treatment strategies.


Applying Geological Techniques in Cancer Research

Geology utilizes isotope analysis to study the composition of rocks and minerals, leveraging natural radioactive decay.[3] This technique provides insights into material origins at the atomic level. Beyond geology, analyzing atomic compositions within our bodies is crucial. Differences in cellular functions and products between normal and cancer cells can potentially be detected through isotope distribution variances.


Revolutionizing Skin Cancer Detection: The Promise of Geological Methods

The survival rate for skin cancer hinges largely on early detection and prompt treatment.[4] While skin biopsy, the traditional diagnostic method, has drawbacks such as pain, slowness, and time consumption, the current trend favors comfortable, cost-effective, and swift computer-based technologies.[5] In fact, the research community is exploring new avenues for identifying cancers at the atomic level. Geological methods, capable of identifying cancer fingerprints at the atomic level, have shown promise in this regard.


Breakthrough Research: Using Hydrogen Isotopes to Differentiate Cancerous Cells

Cancer cells have a different metabolism compared to normal cells. So the composition of atomic compounds also significantly differ. Ashley Maloney, a biogeochemist at the University of Colorado Boulder, led a ground-breaking research to differentiate cancerous cells from normal ones using hydrogen isotopes, specifically deuterium. By analysing hydrogen isotope density, they discovered distinct differences between normal and cancer cells. They conducted experiments using yeast cells as a model for cancer cells, healthy and cancerous mouse liver cells for comparison. The researchers sampled fatty acids from these cell cultures and analysed their hydrogen isotope levels using isotope ratio mass spectrometry. The findings revealed significant differences in the hydrogen to deuterium ratios between high-growth (cancerous) cells and normal cells.[6]


Harnessing Isotope Analysis for Non-Invasive Skin Cancer Detection

The study’s findings have significant implications for skin cancer detection. The metabolism of skin cancer cells differs from that of normal skin cells, which is reflected in their isotopic composition.

If you wonder how isotope ratio mass spectrometry works, it gives high precision measurement of stable isotope content of any solid, liquid or gas sample. This method can target not only hydrogen but also isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.[7] By using hydrogen isotope analysis, dermatologists can potentially detect skin cancer through simple blood tests or other non-invasive methods even before clinical features appear.Early detection greatly improves survival rates and treatment outcomes for skin cancer patients.


The Future of Dermatology: Integrating Geological Techniques for Early Cancer Detection

Dermatologists play a crucial role in early skin cancer detection and treatment. The integration of isotopic analysis into routine dermatology practice could enhance the tools available for skin cancer screening. This new technique could help identify at-risk individuals and early-stage cancer patients more efficiently, reducing the need for invasive procedures.

The potential benefits of early detection and treatment include quicker recovery and fewer advanced, costly medical procedures. The adoption of geological techniques in dermatology practices could significantly improve patient outcomes.

The study led by Ashley Maloney represents a significant advancement in skin cancer detection. By leveraging geological techniques to identify cancer fingerprints at the atomic level, this research offers a new, non-invasive method for early detection. Continued research and innovation in this field are essential to fully realize the potential of these findings.

Dermatologists and the wider medical community should stay informed and engaged with emerging research and technologies to improve skin cancer detection and patient care.

  1. Information and Resources about Cancer: Breast, Colon, Lung, Prostate, Skin. American Cancer Society.
  2. Weller RB, Hunter HJA, Mann MW. Clinical Dermatology. John Wiley & Sons; 2015.
  3. BGR  –  Isotope geology.,geochronology%20depends%20on%20such%20mechanisms.
  4. Staff PS, Staff PS. What’s the difference between melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer? – Premier Surgical. Premier Surgical – Premier Surgical. January 2022.
  5. Dildar M, Akram S, Irfan M, et al. Skin Cancer Detection: A review using Deep learning techniques. International Journal of Environmental  Research and Public Health/International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(10):5479. doi:10.3390/ijerph18105479
  6. Maloney AE, Kopf SH, Zhang X. Large enrichments in fatty acid 2H/1H ratios distinguish respiration from aerobic fermentation in yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Published May 6, 2024;121(20):e2310771121. doi:10.1073/pnas.2310771121
  7. Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry | Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

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