Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology

, Volume 139, Issue 7, pp 1083-1104

First online:

Optical techniques for the noninvasive diagnosis of skin cancer

  • Mihaela Antonina CalinAffiliated withNational Institute of Research and Development for Optoelectronics INOE 2000 Email author 
  • , Sorin Viorel ParascaAffiliated withEmergency Clinical Hospital for Plastic, Reconstructive Surgery and Burns
  • , Roxana SavastruAffiliated withNational Institute of Research and Development for Optoelectronics INOE 2000
  • , Marian Romeo CalinAffiliated with“Horia Hulubei” National Institute for Physics and Nuclear Engineering, IFIN HH
  • , Simona DontuAffiliated withNational Institute of Research and Development for Optoelectronics INOE 2000

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The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the most investigated optical diagnostic techniques: optical coherence tomography, fluorescence spectrometry, reflectance spectrometry, Raman spectroscopy, and confocal microscopy.


A search of three databases was conducted using specific keywords and explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria for the analysis of the performances of these techniques in the pre- and postoperative diagnosis of skin cancers.


Optical coherence tomography has shown promising results in the assessment of deep margins of skin tumors and inflammatory skin diseases, but differentiating premalignant from malignant lesions proved to be less effective. Fluorescence spectroscopy proved to be effective in revealing the biochemical composition of tissue; early detection of malignant melanoma was reliable only with stepwise two-photon excitation of melanin, while tumoral margin assessment and differential diagnosis between malignant and non-malignant lesions showed some conflicting results. Characterization of the structural properties of tissue can be made using diffuse reflectance spectrometry, and the values of the specificity and sensitivity of this method are ranging between 72–92 % and 64–92 %, respectively. Raman spectroscopy proved to have better results both in carcinoma and melanoma diagnosis with sensitivities and specificities above 90 % and high above 50 %, respectively. Confocal microscopy is the closest technique to pathological examination and has gained the most clinical acceptance, despite the need for a standardization of the interpretation algorithm.


In conclusion, these optical techniques proved to be effective in the diagnosis of skin cancer, but further studies are needed in finding the appropriate method or combination of methods that can have wide clinical applications.


Optical coherence tomography Fluorescence spectrometry Reflectance spectrometry Raman spectroscopy Confocal microscopy Sensitivity and specificity indices