Surgeons may be able to see—and remove—skin cancers completely, thanks to a new compound that tags tumors. Called BLZ-100, the experimental compound combines a fluorescent dye with a protein fragment that binds cancer cells. A phase I clinical trial of intravenously injected BLZ-100 will soon be underway in Australia, enrolling up to 30 people with basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, or melanomas that lack the dark pigment melanin, making them hard to diagnose. In addition, U.S. clinical trials are expected for other kinds of tumors by the end of 2014.
A new way to detect melanomas sidesteps the discomfort and disfiguration of biopsies by letting dermatologists look directly into intact skin. Called confocal microscopy, the method shows cells deep enough to distinguish most skin cancers—including melanomas, basal cell carcinomas, and squamous cell carcinomas—from benign lesions that do not need treatment. According to a dermatologist who is trained in this method, confocal microscopy could ultimately spare half of patients from biopsies.