Australian scientists develop ‘world’s first’ melanoma blood test

Scientists from Edith Cowan University say the new test could help doctors detect the skin cancer before it spreads.

Melanoma 2
Melanoma is currently detected using a visual scan by a doctor, with areas of concern removed surgically and biopsied [Getty Images]

Researchers in Australia have developed the “world’s first” blood test for melanoma in early stages, hailing it as a breakthrough that could increase survival rates from the deadly skin cancer.

Scientists from Edith Cowan University said on Wednesday the new test could help doctors detect the disease before it spreads through a person’s body.

“Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five-year survival rate between 90 and 99 percent,” lead researcher Pauline Zaenker said in a statement.

She added that survival rates decreased to less than 50 percent if the cancer spread in the body.

“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,” Zaenker said.

Trialled on 124 patients, the test helped detect the disease in 70 percent of cases.

The next step for the scientists is to conduct another clinical trial lasting three years to validate their findings, with hopes the test could be available in the markets in about three to five years.

The hope is to have a test that clinics can use the test after that period.

Melanoma is currently detected using a visual scan by a doctor, with areas of concern removed surgically and biopsied.

The blood test works by detecting combinations of protein antibodies produced by the body in response to melanoma. 

“We examined a total of 1,627 different types of antibodies to identify a combination of 10 antibodies that best indicated the presence of melanoma in confirmed patients relative to healthy volunteers,” Zaenker said.

Sanchia Aranda, chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, said the test would be important for high-risk groups that have to undergo regular inspections of their spots and moles, which can be difficult and time-consuming.

She cautioned that the test did not detect other types of less deadly, but more common, skin cancers such as squamous-cell and basal-cell carcinoma.

“People need to be very aware of whether they’ve got sun damage or UV damage on their skin, and be alert to changes in any spots or moles,” she told AFP news agency.

One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization. About 14,000 cases were diagnosed in 2017. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies