Australian researchers have developed "the world's first" blood test to detect early-stage melanoma, a development that they said could save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
The researchers from Edith Cowan University said the blood test could help doctors detect the skin cancer at early stages when it is more easily treatable.
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"Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five year survival rate between 90 and 99 percent, 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," lead researcher Pauline Zaenker said in a statement.
Melanoma is usually identified by doctors visually and suspected skin cancers are excised and biopsied.
The new blood test method works by testing autoantibodies produced by the body to fight 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," Zaenker said.
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The researchers identified a combination of 10 antibodies out of 1,627 different types that indicated the presence of melanoma.
The research, which is still in its early stages, was published in the journal Oncotarget on July 18 based on a trial involving 105 patients with melanoma and 104 healthy people. The blood test detected early stage melanoma in 79 percent of cases.
The next step is to conduct further clinical trials to validate their findings, which could take about three more years.
"If this is successful we would hope to be able to have a test ready for use in pathology clinics shortly afterwards," said Professor Mel Ziman of the Melanoma Research Group.
"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.
Melanoma is the deadliest and most common type of skin cancer caused mainly through exposure to UV light and sunlight.
Australia has the second highest level of melanoma in the world after New Zealand, with 14,000 new diagnoses and almost 2,000 deaths every year.