Degree of optical polarization as a tool for detecting melanoma: proof of principle

J Biomed Opt. 2018 Dec;23(12):1-7. doi: 10.1117/1.JBO.23.12.125004.


Determining the optical polarization properties of a skin lesion is a proposed method to differentiate melanoma from other skin lesions. We developed an in vivo Stokes polarimetry probe that fires a laser of known polarization at the skin and measures the Stokes parameters of the backscattered light in one shot. From these measured Stokes parameters, we can calculate the degree of polarization (DOP). Through testing on rough skin phantoms, a correlation between backscattered DOP and skin roughness was identified for both linear and circular input polarization, the latter of which was found to be more useful. In a pilot clinical trial of 69 skin lesions in vivo, it was found that the mean DOP for melanoma (linear input on melanoma: 0.46 ± 0.09) was greater than that of other lesions (linear input on all other lesions: 0.28 ± 0.01). This separation is greater for circular polarized input light, and it is likely that circular polarized light's greater sensitivity to surface roughness contributes to this result. In addition, all skin lesions demonstrated a stronger depolarizing effect on circular polarized light than linear polarized light. We have identified DOP as a potentially useful measurement to identify melanoma among other types of skin lesions.

Keywords: Stokes vector; degree of polarization; in vivo; roughness; skin cancer; skin phantoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Melanoma / chemistry
  • Melanoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Microscopy, Polarization / methods*
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Skin / chemistry
  • Skin / diagnostic imaging*
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Surface Properties