Scientists in Australia develop world-first blood test to detect skin cancer before it spreads through the body
Scientists in Australia have developed a world-first blood test to detect skin cancer before it spreads through the body.
The test could potentially allow early detection of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and increase the prospects of treatment. It may also help to avoid invasive and costly biopsies.
Researchers said the test could prove more accurate than the current method of detection, which typically involves a doctor looking at the skin and assessing spots or changes to moles before removing a sample for further examination. But an early stage melanoma can often be difficult to distinguish from a mole.
“While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic,” said Pauline Zaenker, from Edith Cowan University.
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“The body starts producing these antibodies as soon as melanoma first develops which is how we have been able to detect the cancer in its very early stages with this blood test. No other type of biomarker appears to be capable of detecting the cancer in blood at these early stages.”
Melanoma, which are typically caused by exposure to the sun, can, if undetected, spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver and brain. These secondary melanomas can be more dangerous and harder to treat.
A trial of the new blood test involving 209 people found the cancer during its early stages in 81.5 per cent of cases.
Detection of melanoma before it spreads can result in a 90 to 99 per cent five-year survival rate but the survival rate for people with secondary forms is less than 50 per cent.
The researchers said the test could be used for routine screening of people with a higher risk of melanoma, such as those with a large number of moles, pale skin or a family history of the disease.
“It’s critical that melanoma is diagnosed more accurately and early,” said Professor Mel Ziman, from Edith Cowan University.
“So a blood test would help in that identification particularly at early stage melanoma, which is what is the most concerning and would be most beneficial for everybody if it was identified early.”
The researchers plan to conduct clinical trials and believe the test could be available in three to five years.
The World Health Organization says skin cancers are more common for Caucasians, particularly people with pale or freckled skin, fair or red hair, or blue eyes.
Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of melanoma, with 14,000 new diagnoses and almost 2000 deaths each year.
Professor Rodney Sinclair, from the University of Melbourne, said the test was not 100 per cent accurate and results would still need to be interpreted with caution, potentially with a check by a dermatologist.
The research findings were published in the journal Oncotarget.