- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Dr. Loretta Davis takes the device attached to her iPhone and presses it against a sunspot on the wrist of Dr. Jorge Cortes, the director of the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University.

After glancing at the sharp image it sends to her screen, the chair of the AU Department of Dermatology tells him it is “pretty boring, which is a good thing.”

The images the mobile dermatoscope can take and send, which Davis said are as good as the device she uses in a clinic, are at the heart of a new effort by the cancer center to create links with 15 medical centers in 14 rural communities, mostly in southwest and central Georgia, to provide skin cancer screening and education. The project is funded by $576,035 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants program.

The project will also reach out to primary care residency programs in the state that might not be in rural communities “but their residents graduate and end up serving primarily in these rural communities,” said Dr. Doug Patten, the dean of the Medical College of Georgia’s Southwest Campus at Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany.

The program will allow primary care providers seeing patients to use MoleScope II, a mobile dermatoscope connected to a smartphone, to image suspicious moles or lesions and share those with experts at the cancer center, Cortes said.

Many rural areas lack access to a dermatologist, Patten said.

“Sometimes that lack of access is geographic. There is just not one nearby, or if they are nearby, transportation from the small community into a larger community can be a challenge,” he said. “But sometimes that lack of access is based on the ability to pay for the service.”

The dermatoscopes “just revolutionize the way we examine lesions,” Davis said. “My eye is pretty good at doing this after 30 years, but it is way better if this is used.”

The image is magnified and the light used allows the practitioner to see further into the skin and recognize asymmetrical colors, patterns or blood vessels, Davis said.

“And it is amazingly easy to use,” she said, holding the small round scope. “You just press this up against the skin. So a practitioner in rural Georgia can hold this up against a concerning spot and it is transmitted to us. It is amazing technology.”

The visualization helps with patients with darker skin tones, particularly with Black patients, Patten said.

“Those can be some of the most tricky to diagnose, especially if you are just looking at them with the naked eye,” he said. “So this enhances access, it enhances the quality of the evaluation and hopefully will allow us to intervene earlier in some of these potentially life-threatening skin cancers.”

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, with 108,420 cases expected in the U.S. in 2020 and 11,480 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Being able to tell patients that a suspicious rash is nothing can give them peace of mind and save them time and money from having to take a trip to see a specialist, or more importantly, identify those that need further scrutiny and treatment, Cortes said.

“The biggest concern in skin cancer, and particularly those that are most aggressive, is that when you diagnose early is when you have your best chance to eliminate the threat,” he said.

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