Australian researchers develop test to detect melanoma in early stages

19 July 2018 (Last Updated August 20th, 2018 14:31)

Researchers at the Edith Cowan University (ECU), Australia, have developed a blood test that detects melanoma in its early stages.

Australian researchers develop test to detect melanoma in early stages
Melanoma Biopsy. Credit: KGH.

Researchers at the Edith Cowan University (ECU), Australia, have developed a blood test to detect melanoma in its early stages.

The blood test trial was carried out on 105 people with melanoma and a control group of 104 healthy individuals. The test detected early-stage melanoma in 79% of cases.

Australia is claimed to have the second highest rate of melanoma in the world and has 14,000 new diagnoses, with around 2,000 deaths annually. These deaths could be prevented if it is identified early.

The trial’s lead researcher Pauline Zaenker said: “Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five-year survival rate between 90%-99%, whereas if it is not caught early and it spreads around the body, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 50%.

“This is what makes this blood test so exciting as a potential screening tool because it can pick up melanoma in its very early stages when it is still treatable.”

Melanoma is currently identified through a visual scan of an affected skin area and then a biopsy is conducted on the area.

This new blood test would serve as a tool to detect melanoma in its early stages before it spreads throughout the body.

“No other type of biomarker appears to be capable of detecting the cancer in blood at these early stages.”

Zaenker, who is from ECU’s Melanoma Research Group (MRG), added: “While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic. We know that three out of four biopsies come back negative for melanoma.

“The biopsies are quite invasive, with a minimum of 1cm x 1cm of skin excised from the patient.

“They are also costly, with previous research showing that the Australian health system spends $201m on melanoma each year with an additional $73m on negative biopsies.”

The blood test detects the autoantibodies produced in the body in response to the melanoma.

Zaenker added: “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.

“No other type of biomarker appears to be capable of detecting the cancer in blood at these early stages.”