Tutorial: Diagnosis of Human Skin Lesions (Cancer and Burns) Using High-Frequency Techniques – A Review

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Diagnosis of Human Skin Lesions (Cancer and Burns) Using High-Frequency Techniques – A Review

Reza Zoughi

Applied Microwave Nondestructive Testign Laboratory (amntl), Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Missouri University of Science and Technology (S & T), Rolla, MO 64509



According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) “Cancer of the skin is by far the most common of all cancers. Melanoma accounts for less than 2% of skin cancers cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths”.  The ACS estimates that in 2014 in the United States about 76,100 new cases of melanoma will have been diagnosed and approximately 9,710 people are expected to die from melanoma. If diagnosed in their early stages, 95% skin cancers are curable. Visual inspection using size, shape, color, border irregularities, ulceration, tendency to bleed and whether the lesion is raised, hard or tender are common approaches to diagnosis. Visual inspection is subjective and susceptible to human error. Malignant skin tumors have different biological properties than the surrounding healthy skin, which enables distinction between these two types of skin using a proper inspection technique. A noninvasive method producing reliable and real-time information about a suspected skin malignancy, that enables dermatologists to obtain a real-time diagnosis of the likelihood of a lesion being cancerous, would be of great clinical and diagnostic value.

Burn injury represents a wide range of tissue damage. The classification and treatment of thermal injuries are determined based on the depth of invasion into the underlying tissue. The postoperative management of skin and skin-substitute grafts is complicated by the need to stabilize the grafts with dressings, which introduces some limitations for readily removing it to monitor the grafted wound for correctible problems.  When it comes to burned skin, comprehensive diagnosis refers to detection as well as evaluation of critical parameters, the most critical of which is the depth of invasion. A diagnostic tool allowing for real-time qualitative and quantitative evaluation of a burn through desiccated skin or optically-opaque dressings represents a significant addition to the medical toolbox used by physicians and first responders caring for burned patients.

Microwave and millimeter wave signals (~300 MHz - 300 GHz) are non-ionizing and can readily interact with human skin and respond to changes in its properties. This interaction is dependent upon the biophysical (i.e., dielectric and thickness) properties of skin, as well as electromagnetic parameters such as the frequency of operation and specific characteristics of the probe used. There are several technical and practical beneficial features that make high-frequency evaluation of human skin quite attractive as a potential medical diagnostics tool. A historical and technical review of high-frequency inspection techniques, used for evaluating skin cancer and burned skin, will be presented. Issues related to technical advances in developing real-time imaging systems as well as the potential future possibilities in this realm will be presented.


R. Zoughi received his B.S.E.E, M.S.E.E, and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering (radar remote sensing, radar systems, and microwaves) from the University of Kansas where from 1981 until 1987 he was at the Radar Systems and Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL).  Currently he is the Schlumberger Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T), formerly University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR).  Prior to joining Missouri S&T in January 2001 and since 1987 he was with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Colorado State University (CSU), where he was a professor and established the Applied Microwave Nondestructive Testing Laboratory (amntl) (http://amntl.mst.edu/ & http://youtu.be/ytWxFlexH7Y).  Dr. Zoughi held the position of Business Challenge Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1995 to 1997 while at CSU.

He is the co-author of over 565 journal papers, conference proceedings and presentations and technical reports. He is the author of a textbook entitled “Microwave Nondestructive Testing and Evaluation Principles” KLUWER Academic Publishers, 2000, and the co-author of a chapter on Microwave Techniques in the book entitled “Nondestructive Evaluation: Theory, Techniques, and Applications” Marcel and Dekker, Inc., 2002. 

He has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards both at CSU and Missouri S&T.  He is the recipient of the 2007 IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society Distinguished Service Award, the 2009 American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) Research Award for Sustained Excellence and the 2011 IEEE Joseph F. Keithley Award in Instrumentation and Measurement.

He has thirteen patents to his credit all in the field of microwave nondestructive testing and evaluation. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a Fellow of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT).

He is an at-large member of the IEEE Publications Services and Products Board (PSPB) for 2016-2018. In 2015 he served as a member of the IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB) Products and Services Committee (PSPB). In 2014-2015 he served as the IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement (I&M) Society President. He served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE I&M Society (2010-2013 and 2014-2017), was a two-term at-large AdCom member of the Society and served in several capacities including the Vice President for Education (for two years). He also served the Society in the capacity of Executive Vice President (2012-2013), and as the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement (TIM) from 2007 through 2011. He is a Technical Associate Editor for Materials Evaluation and the IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement. He was the General Co-Chair of the IEEE International Instrumentation and Measurement technology Conference (I2MTC) that was held in May 6-9 2013 in Minneapolis, MN.