Australian researchers from the Edith Cowan University have developed the world’s first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages.
The test is a major development in the way skin cancer is detected and researchers are hopeful it could save thousands of lives every year.
The new blood test works by detecting autoantibodies in the blood of patients — the immune system forms autoantibodies in response to the abnormal proteins produced by cancer cells — and allows doctors to identify melanoma with up to 80 per cent accuracy.
Currently, melanoma is detected visually and with biopsies, although 75 per cent of biopsies return a negative result. They’re also expensive, costing $201 million each year – $73 million of which is funding negative results.
Professor Mel Ziman, head of the melanoma research group at Edith Cowan University helped develop the new blood test and told Starts at 60 the research team had identified a combination of 10 autoantibodies that allowed them to detect melanoma at very early stages.
“We are not replacing biopsies – we are providing an additional tool to assist clinicians with diagnosis of early stage melanoma – sometimes this is tricky when people have many moles and the melanoma is thin and not pigmented,” she said.
“If we provide a blood test to improve diagnosis of early melanoma, we could potentially save $70 million on costs of biopsies for abnormal moles.”
Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia. This year alone, 14,320 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed, making up 10.4 per cent of all new cancer cases in Australia this year. More men than women are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, at 8,653 and 5,667 respectively, and 1,905 people are expected to die from the disease in 2018 alone. That figure will count for 3.9 per cent of all cancer deaths in 2018.
While it’s not yet available to the public, researchers believe the new innovation could save thousands of lives and save the health system millions of dollars.
Technology has only just become available for researchers to detect so many autoantibodies associated with melanoma at one time. While the initial blood test was trialled on 209 people, the next step is to complete a clinical trial on 1,000 participants at the time they have a biopsy for a suspicious lesion.
“This will allow us to refine our test and improve the accuracy and determine the need and importance of our test for improving diagnostic certainty,” Professor Ziman says.
It is hoped the blood test will be available for clinical use within three years.
The best way to avoid a melanoma diagnosis in the first place is to stay sun smart by wearing sunscreen when outside and by going for a skin check every six to 12 months.