Australian researchers announced today that they were preparing a blood test to diagnose melanoma in the early stages, calling it the "world first" that can save many lives.\ Scientists at Edith Cowan University have announced that the new test will help doctors identify this form of skin cancer before it spreads to the sufferer's body.
"If this blood test was around things could have been so much different". Currently, melanoma is identified by skin examinations and biopsies, and if caught early, it can be treated with a high success rate.
"While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic", said Pauline Zaenker, from Edith Cowan University.
Survival rates for melanoma are between 90 and 95 per cent if the disease is detected early, but if the cancer spreads, survival rates drop to below 50 per cent.
"As blood samples are easily accessible from patients, various types of blood-based biomarkers have already been proposed to be utilized in a blood test for melanoma, but none have yet demonstrated sufficient sensitivity to detect biological changes at the earliest stages of this malignancy", they wrote.
"The ultimate goal is for this blood test to be used to provide greater diagnostic certainty prior to biopsy and for routine screening of people who are at a higher risk of melanoma, such as those with a large number of moles or those with pale skin or a family history of the disease", she said.
Patients who returned a positive result would still need a biopsy to confirm the blood test and determine how far the cancer had developed, Ziman said.
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She cautioned that the test did not pick up other types of less deadly, but more common, skin cancers such as squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma.
Melanoma is now detected by using a visual scan by a doctor with areas of interest being surgically removed and sent for biopsy. If not treated, this cancer is capable of spreading deeper into the skin from where it is carried to other organs via lymphatic channels and blood vessels.
The breakthrough could potentially save millions of lives and significantly reduce costs to the healthcare system.
The exploration, distributed in the diary Oncotarget on Wednesday, incorporated a preliminary including 105 patients with melanoma and 104 solid individuals. The process detected initial melanoma in 79% of the cases, the researchers said.
"We envision this taking about three years".
This could take about three years with a test ready for use shortly after that.
The blood test has now been submitted for an global patent.