New melanoma blood test could speed up detection and save thousands

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A NEW blood test could fast-track melanoma detection and get more accurate results.

With skin cancer currently detected visually by doctors and biopsies taken from patients, scientists have been looking for ways to save money, pain and time, with three out of four skin samples returning negative results anyway.

Scientists from Edith Cowan University have now developed the world’s first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages, an innovation that should save thousands of lives

The blood test was trialled on 209 people, 105 with melanoma, and was able pick up early stage melanoma in 81.5 per cent of cases.

It works by detecting antibodies produced by the body in response to melanoma.

The team examined 1627 different antibodies and identified a combination of 10 that are the most reliable in predicting the presence of melanoma.

The next step is a clinical trial to validate the findings. The scientists say the test could be available for clinical use in as soon as three years.

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.

Biopsies are uncomfortable for patients and expensive, with Australia spending $201 million on them annually, $73 million on of which are negative results.

Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer type in Australia and it is estimated that almost 14,000 cases were diagnosed last year.

The disease kills 1500 Australians each year.

Professor Sanchia Aranda, chief executive Cancer Council Australia, said while the new research was an interesting development, clinical trials in a larger sample were needed to test what impact it had on survival in the real world.

“It is unlikely that population based screening would be cost effective, so research would also be needed to determine who would benefit,” she said.

“At the moment many melanomas are easily detected early through changes to new or existing spots or moles, so it’s important all Australians keep a close eye on their skin and see their doctor straight away if they notice anything unusual.

“We should also remember that prevention is always better than cure. Whenever the UV is 3 or above we need to slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunglasses.”

Professor Rodney Sinclair, a Professor of Dermatology at the University of Melbourne, said the test represented a promising step forward.

“A sensitivity of 79 per cent means that it will detect melanoma in 79 per cent of affected people but miss it in 21 per cent,” he said.

“The specificity of 84 per cent means that when the test is positive, 84 per cent of patients will have a melanoma, but 16 per cent won’t.

“The false positive and false negative rates of this test mean that the results will need to be interpreted with caution and, where practical, combined with a full skin check by a dermatologist.”

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