Smartphones can be used for basically anything in this day and age, and now, dermatologists are turning to the device to improve detection rates for skin cancer in developing countries.

How can smartphones help? By turning into a handy-dandy microscope.

According to Richard Jahan-Tigh, M.D., lead author of a study published in the journal Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, doctors in remote areas commonly don't have high-powered microscopes at their disposal to evaluate skin samples. By using smartphone microscopes, they'll be able to not only assess samples on their own, but can forward them as well for further examination.

In their study, Jahan-Tigh and colleagues were able to show that smartphone microscopes are capable of diagnosing skin cancer with reasonable accuracy. Of course, traditional light microscopes fared better at spotting skin cancers, but the smartphone microscope was able to detect about 90 percent of non-melanoma cases and 60 percent of melanoma skin cancers, as well 89 percent of squamous cell carcinomas and 95.6 percent of cases of basal cell carcinoma.

"This is a good first step to show that smartphone microscopy has a future in dermatology and pathology," said Jahan-Tigh.

Ronald Rapini and Garett Chinn also contributed to the study.

Making A Smartphone Microscope

A smartphone microscope needs a 3 mm ball lens, a small piece of plastic to hold the ball lens over the smartphone's lens and some tape to hold everything in place. A ball lens is typically found in electronics stores, and costs about $14.

How To Use It

Doctors simply need to hold it over a skin sample on a slide, waiting for sample to come into focus for clear examination. If a doctor is a pathologist, they can identify the sample. If not, they can take a photo of the sample and send it to a pathologist to be interpreted.

Skin Cancer Prevalence

Cases of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers are on the rise in recent decades, according to the World Health Organization. This has resulted in two to three million cases of non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanomas around the world every year.

Photo: Pabak Sarkar | Flickr

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