Australian scientists on Wednesday said they have developed the world’s first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages, a breakthrough that may save thousands of lives, as well as millions of dollars for the healthcare system.
The new blood test could provide doctors with a powerful new tool to detect melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, before it spreads throughout the body, said researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia.
In a trial involving 105 people with melanoma and 104 healthy controls, the blood test was able to detect early stage melanoma in 79 per cent of cases.
“Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five year survival rate between 90 and 99 per cent, whereas if it is not caught early and it spreads around the body, the five year survival rate drops to less than 50 per cent,” said Pauline Zaenker, who led the research published in the journal Oncotarget.
“This is what makes this blood test so exciting as a potential screening tool because it can pick up melanoma in its very early stages when it is still treatable,” said Zaenker.
Currently, the main way melanoma is detected is by a visual scan by a clinician with any areas of skin that are of concern excised and sent for a biopsy.
“While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic. We know that three out of four biopsies come back negative for melanoma,” Zaenker said.
The biopsies are quite invasive, with a minimum of one square centimetre of skin taken from the patient, she said.
The blood test works by detecting the autoantibodies the body produces in response to the melanoma.
“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,” Zaenker said.
"We examined a total of 1,627 different types of antibodies to identify a combination of 10 antibodies that best indicated the presence of melanoma in confirmed patients relative to healthy volunteers,” she said.
Mel Ziman from ECU’s Melanoma Research Group (MRG) said a follow up clinical trial to validate the findings was being organised.
“We envision this taking about three years. If this is successful we would hope to be able to have a test ready for use in pathology clinics shortly afterwards,” she said.
“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," said Ziman.