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Pilbara residents invited to help trial world-first skin cancer pre-screening device

Giovanni Torre -

Pilbara residents who suspect they may have skin cancer are being asked to help test a world-first skin cancer pre-screening device – which developers say could eventually replace the need for a trip to the GP or dermatologist.


The microneedle patch "quickly and painlessly" extracts live skin cells in under two minutes, cutting the time and discomfort associated with traditional biopsy procedures. 


DermR Health Solutions CEO and genomics specialist Stefan Mazy said the device could prove life-changing for people living in remote and regional communities as it has the capability to be self-collected at home.


“We want to help regional and remote regions like the Pilbara to put an end to delays in skin cancer diagnosis due to a lack of convenient health services,” said Mr Mazy.


“Our device helps to reimagine a future where skin cancer testing is as simple as applying a patch and sending it off in the mail for testing, without driving hours for a painful procedure where up to 40% of skin cancer biopsies are negative.”


The device, known as the DermR® Patch, is being trialled in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries in the Pilbara, where up to 50 patients will be identified and tested during March and April.

DermR Patch. Image: supplied.



Mr Mazy is encouraging local residents to get involved in the trial, to test out the technology which introduces "a cost-effective and pain-free" alternative to traditional skin cancer biopsy methods.


“We are on a journey to prevent one billion avoidable skin biopsies… we're here to make skin cancer screening a hassle-free process – no mess, no anaesthetics, no cutting, no bleeding and most importantly, no pain,” said Mr Mazy.


“Our tools don’t require specialist training, freeing up hospital beds and expertise that could be better utilised.”


The Pilbara trial will involve Mr Mazy assisting doctors and nurses take patient samples, alongside a traditional biopsy – so the results can be compared.


“We will do a parallel equivalency study to prove the device’s safety, and the collected tissue sample will be analysed using a proprietary gene panel, providing a pre-screening for all types of skin cancers,” he said.


“The biopsy sample will be sent to histopathology and our panel should confirm the presence of elevated genes associated with cancer and should match up to the results of the histopathology.


“This is how we prove our test is equivalent to a biopsy.”


What people interested in participating in the Pilbara trial need to do:

  • People who are concerned about a suspicious spot, a growing freckle or unusual skin abnormality on their face, neck, back, shoulders, or chest, should email DermR Health Solutions on [email protected] to flag their interest.

  • An appointment will then be made with a doctor (listed below) who will perform a skin check, and if deemed suspicious, a patch will be applied to collect a microtissue sample for analysis, followed by a normal skin biopsy.

  • Both samples (taken via biopsy and device) will be analysed, and the results compared, with final analysis taking around 2-3 weeks. Patient results will then be provided by the doctor.


The doctors/hospitals taking part so far are Hedland Health Campus – South Hedland and Wirraka Maya Health Service Aboriginal Corporation – South Hedland, with more sites to be announced.

Mr Mazy said that skin cancer screening participation in the Pilbara is 20-35 per cent lower than in the rest of Western Australia.


“Feedback from local stakeholders suggests that lower cancer screening rates may indicate difficulties accessing health services due to long distances and remote geographical locations,” he said.


“The Pilbara also has the lowest supply of GPs in Western Australia – with a low-capacity healthcare workforce and large geographical size, health outcomes in the region are significantly poorer than those living within the metropolitan area.


“Our new diagnostic tool could replace the need for a GP or dermatologist to painfully cut into someone’s skin for cancer detection, when it may not be necessary, causing a huge strain on the healthcare system.


“Skin biopsies hurt, they are painful, complications arise, and no one wants to have them done. The reality is such an invasive approach has fuelled an avoidance culture where patients put off seeking a skin check.”


Mr Mazy said non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs) are the largest expense to the WA healthcare system costing $110 million annually. 40 per cent of skin biopsy procedures for skin cancer were categorised as benign, costing the state over $40 million annually.


"In 2021 alone, more than 50,000 unnecessary skin biopsies were performed in Western Australia,” said Mr Mazy.


While in the Pilbara, disease and disorders of the skin are the fourth largest problem and specifically within indigenous communities, NMSCs are responsible for one per cent of all indigenous deaths.


“This is a discussion that no one is having but needs to be addressed. In metropolitan areas, it is almost unheard of to be admitted to a hospital for an advanced non-melanoma lesion that has gone unchecked, let alone die from it,” said Mr Mazy.


“Delayed diagnosis is often due to a lack of access to convenient health services and incomplete record keeping, which increases mortality risk.


“GPs are also under-equipped to provide dermatological services, with many over-diagnosing and underreporting, leading to avoidable biopsy procedures and added dermatology referral costs. It is also difficult for healthcare providers to be able to monitor and track skin changes due to a lack of reporting.”


Mr Mazy said often in rural communities, patients discovered a suspicious lesion and were uncertain if it was a BCC, SCC, melanoma, or nothing to be worried about.


“The problem with discovering a suspicious lesion in remote regions is that that the closest health provider is five hours away, with limited availability weeks in advance. Then if you have to see a dermatologist, they usually visit once every six weeks”, said Mr Mazy.


“The patient makes the drive – losing a day of work – only to be told by the provider they are not sure what it could be and they can either refer them to a dermatologist in the city or cut the lesion out ‘to be safe’.


“Once cut out, most patients are ultimately unaware of the actual outcome because the 'problem' is deemed to have been solved by removal and further, these insights can go unrecorded on patients' health files.”


“While this scenario plays out all too often, it also highlights why a delay in diagnosis occurs. The most common cancer in Australia shouldn’t have to be so hard to be so hard to get diagnosed. We believe we have a better solution.”


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