On 18 July, a group of researchers from the Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia have announced they’ve developed the world’s first blood test for the early stages of melanoma – a particularly deadly type of skin cancer – which could save countless lives in the near future.
“Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five-year survival rate between 90 and 99 percent,” said lead researcher Pauline Zaenker of the ECU.
Once the cancer spreads to the rest of the body through the lymphatic system, however, survival rates begin to fall below the 50 percent mark, which makes the possibility of having an easy-to-use blood test a real boon for people in the early stages of melanoma.
A paper detailing the discovery, published in the journal Oncotarget, includes a trial involving 105 patients with melanoma and 104 controls with no signs of the disease. According to the research team, their test was capable of detecting the cancer in as many as 79 percent of cases.
As opposed to the usual procedure, which involves a visual examination, followed by a biopsy of suspicious looking tissue, the blood test screens for auto-antibodies which ramp up in response to the spread of malignant lesions.
“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,” explained Zaenker.
Given that Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, a simple test which could dramatically speed up the screening procedure, has been sought after for many years, especially for using on high-risk groups of people with a large number of moles and other spots on their bodies.
“People need to be very aware of whether they’ve got sun damage or UV damage on their skin, and be alert to changes in any spots or moles,” said Chief Executive of Cancer Council Australia Sanchia Aranda.
The team of researchers led by Zaenker is now set to launch a clinical trial lasting three years to validate the findings and hopefully roll out the test to medical establishments the world over.