World-first melanoma test a jab away
AUSTRALIAN researchers have developed a "world-first" blood test to detect melanoma.
Lead researcher Pauline Zaenker, of Edith Cowan University's Melanoma Research Group, described the test as an "exciting" potential screening tool because it could pick up melanoma in the very early stages when it was still treatable.
"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," she said.
Queensland has the highest rates of melanoma in the world with more than 3600 cases diagnosed and about 300 people dying from the skin cancer annually.
The West Australian researchers compared blood samples from 105 people with early stage melanoma and 104 health volunteers.
They analysed more than 1600 different types of antibodies, identifying a combination of 10 that indicated the presence of melanoma in about 80 per cent of cases.
But one in five people with early-stage melanoma were missed and when the test was positive, one in six people did not have the skin cancer.
While hailing the findings as a "world-first" breakthrough, the researchers said the test still needed to be validated in hundreds more melanoma patients, a process which will take at least three years, before it could be commercialised.
They said further trials should also include people with other types of cancer to ensure the blood test is "melanoma specific".
Cancer Council Australia CEO Sanchia Aranda urged caution about the test, and said population-based screening for melanoma was unlikely to be cost-effective and the test's impact on survival in the "real world" needed to be assessed with more research.
"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," Professor Aranda said.
University of Melbourne Professor of Dermatology Rodney Sinclair said the results of the test would need to be interpreted "with caution" given the test's false positive and false negative rates.
The blood test dubbed MelDx has been submitted for an international patent.
Results of the study are published today in the journal, Oncotarget.
Melanoma was usually detected by doctors checking a patient for suspect skin spots which were then removed and sent for a biopsy.
Edith Cowan University's Melanoma Research Group head Professor Mel Ziman said the ultimate goal was for the blood test to be used to provide greater diagnostic certainty before a biopsy.
If the test is validated, she hoped it would become a routine screening tool for people at higher risk of melanoma, such as those with a large number of moles or those with a family history of the disease.