Tape has many useful purposes. It can help with wrapping presents, fixing a hole or hanging up a poster. Now, the sticky adhesive may have the potential to detect skin cancer. Instead of cutting samples of skin that could be malignant, there’s a new tape-stripping product on the horizon that could prevent painful incisions at the dermatology office.
The tape, based on EGIR™ technology (Epidermal Genetic Information Retrieval), takes surface level cells from the skin to check if there are any problems. While the tape is not currently being used on patients, it would make detecting melanoma easier.
“Tape stripping is like taking a small piece of scotch tape and literally stripping the mole or a lesion of concern,” said Dr. Orit Markowitz, assistant professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. “It's a non- invasive way of looking at skin. You're not cutting. It's not painful to the patient.”
The very thin layer of skin left on the tape, what simply falls off naturally, is sent to a pathology lab to look at its genetic makeup and to determine if further testing or a biopsy should take place.
“This gives you more confidence before you go ahead and biopsy or potentially prevent something that doesn't need to be biopsied from being biopsied,” Markowitz said.
Melanoma, something the tape checks for, is a skin cancer most associated with too much sun, but is also prevalent in areas of the skin not exposed to the sun.
“Melanoma is the deadliest, most preventable, both skin cancer and cancer, in the sense that it's preventable,” Markowitz said. “If you protect yourself from the sun, you're at a much lower risk of developing a much more frequent type of melanoma, which is associated with sun exposure.”
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, 68,130 new cases of melanoma are detected each year, and 8,700 people die from it each year in the U.S.
According to Markowitz, those with fair skin, eyes, and hair, those who have a family history of skin cancer, and those who have numerous moles, are at a greater risk at getting melanoma.
The new tape-stripping technology makes determining whether or not a patient has melanoma quicker and more efficient. While the method has been looked at for a few years now, its recent success rates in determining the presence of melanoma prove to dermatologists and patients that the procedure has promise.
“It's just like taking a little scotch tape and touching something with it,” said Markowitz, who is optimistic about future use of the tape. “Anything that can help us diagnose melanoma early or give us more confidence when we're looking at a lesion that is benign that it is in fact benign, is something that dermatologists are going to be very excited about.”
Currently, dermatologists will closely examine areas of concern on a patient’s skin, taking pictures and cutting skin samples for further evaluation. If something does appear to be irregular or cancerous, a biopsy may occur to remove the lesion.
While this new tool is useful for understanding how concerned a patient should be about a patch of skin, it does not eliminate the need for biopsies. If, for example, an area is determined to have melanoma, it should still be biopsied to find out its depth and severity.
Avoiding any type of physical incision when testing for skin cancer at the dermatology office is something patients look forward to.
“Not having to cut your skin is always going to be a plus,” said one patient, Kim Dooley of New York City. “It just seems a lot less sort of scary. It's like, ‘Oh, just tape it, and send it away.’ It’s a lot better than having to do the shot and the scalpel, and all that sort of thing, so I think it would be great.”