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Scientists develop blood test for early melanoma detection

By Allen Cone
Scientists develop blood test for early melanoma detection
Melanoma is detected using a visual scan by a doctor, and areas of concern are biopsied. Researchers in Australia said they have developed the first blood test to detect the cancer in early stages. Photo by damiangretka/Shutterstock

July 18 (UPI) -- Researchers in Australia have developed the first blood test for detection of melanoma in its early stages, which may allow for earlier treatment of the disease.

Scientists from Edith Cowan University in Joondalup said the new test could help doctors detect the skin cancer before it spreads through a person's body. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal journal Oncotarget.

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The blood-based biomarker could "revolutionize the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of melanoma patients, by allowing the implementation of more regular, informative tests at increased sensitivity, with significantly reduced costs, while reducing radiation exposure," the researchers said in a press release.

In trial of 105 people with melanoma and 104 healthy people, the blood test detected early stage melanoma in 79 percent of cases.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer, with more than 90 percent of cases caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Melanoma often starts with changes to a mole or new growth on the skin, and is detected using a visual scan by a doctor, and biopsies are taken when areas of concern are found.

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Usually curable by adequate surgery if detected early, melanoma with a depth of less than three quarters of a millimeter has a five-year survival rate of approximately 95 percent to 99 percent, according to a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Surgery.

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"Despite advances in diagnostic methods, screening large populations for melanoma remains inefficient due to the time required to screen each individual and due to a plethora of other limitations clinicians face in the current diagnosis of this cancer," the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted that past blood tests to detect melanoma have not been successful.

"As blood samples are easily accessible from patients, various types of blood-based biomarkers have already been proposed to be utilized in a blood test for melanoma, but none have yet demonstrated sufficient sensitivity to detect biological changes at the earliest stages of this malignancy," they wrote.

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The new process involved identifying autoantibodies that a person's body produces in response to the cancer.

The researchers examined 1,627 different types of antibodies and found a combination of 10 that best indicated the presence of melanoma in confirmed patients.

Other types of skin cancers, including squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma, aren't detected in the blood test.

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The scientists plan to conduct another clinical trial over three years to validate the findings and improve the accuracy rate.

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