Australian researchers are claiming a breakthrough with a blood test for early stage melanoma. In a trial involving 105 patients with melanoma and 104 healthy people, the procedure detected early stage melanoma in 79% of cases.
Researchers at the School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Perth, Western Australia say they have developed a blood test for melanoma in its early stages, calling it a “world first” breakthrough that could save many lives.
“Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five-year survival rate between 90% and 99%,” lead researcher Pauline Zaenker said. She added that survival rates fell to less than 50% 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.
The report says the research included a trial involving 105 patients with melanoma and 104 healthy people. The procedure detected early stage melanoma in 79% of cases, the scientists said.
Melanoma is currently detected using a visual scan by a doctor, with areas of concern cut out surgically and biopsied. Zaenker said the new process involved identifying autoantibodies a person’s body produces in response to the cancer.
“We examined a total of 1627 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,” she added.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Sanchia Aranda said in the report that the test would be important for high-risk groups, who have to undergo regular inspections of their spots and moles that can be difficult and time-consuming.
She cautioned that the test did not pick up 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 is quoted in the report as saying.
The scientists will conduct another clinical trial lasting three years to validate the findings, and hope to have a test that clinics can use after that.
One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer, according to the World Health Organisation, with Australia having among the highest incidences of melanoma in the world.
Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that is curable by surgical excision in the majority of cases, if detected at an early stage. To improve early stage melanoma detection, the development of a highly sensitive diagnostic test is of utmost importance. Here we aimed to identify antibodies to a panel of tumour associated antigens that can differentiate primary melanoma patients and healthy individuals. A total of 245 sera from primary melanoma patients and healthy volunteers were screened against a high-throughput microarray platform containing 1627 functional proteins. Following rigorous statistical analysis, we identified a combination of 10 autoantibody biomarkers that, as a panel, displays a sensitivity of 79%, specificity of 84% and an AUC of 0.828 for primary melanoma detection. This melanoma autoantibody signature may prove valuable for the development of a diagnostic blood test for routine population screening that, when used in conjunction with current melanoma diagnostic techniques, could improve the early diagnosis of this malignancy and ultimately decrease the mortality rate of patients.
Pauline Zaenker, Johnny Lo, Robert Pearce, Phillip Cantwell, Lester Cowell, Mark Lee, Christopher Quirk, Henry Law, Elin Gray, Mel Ziman