April 20 (UPI) -- Testing a person's blood for the presence of circulating melanoma cells may help identify skin cancer, while allowing them to skip invasive biopsies, a study published Wednesday found.
The test uses a technology called Melanoma-specific OncoBean and employs antibodies, or proteins produced by the immune system to fight off diseases, related to the form of skin cancer, researchers said.
It was able to identify "noticeable" levels of circulating tumor cells in blood samples collected from 45 study participants with melanoma, data published Wednesday by Advanced NanoBiomed Research showed.
Nine participants who did not have the disease did not have detectable levels of the cancer cells, according to the researchers.
"Circulating tumor cells have the potential to pinpoint treatment resistance and recurrence," study co-author Sunitha Nagrath said in a press release.
"[They] can be a valuable biomarker to non-invasively monitor for disease progression," said Nagrath, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Melanoma, or malignant melanoma, is a type of skin cancer that develops from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, according to the American Cancer Society.
Though less common than other forms of skin cancers, melanomas can be life-threatening and may develop in the skin, mouth, intestines or eyes, the society says.
Early detection of the cancer is key to successful treatment, but many people are not aware they have it until it has progressed, it adds.
The disease is typically diagnosed using a skin biopsy, a procedure in which a small sample of skin is removed for testing. The procedure involves cutting a skin sample and can be painful, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Current approaches may not always identify those who need aggressive treatment for the disease, according to earlier studies.
Based on the findings of this study, the Melanoma-specific OncoBean can be used instead of biopsies to diagnose melanoma or to evaluate whether all cancer cells have been successfully removed following skin cancer surgery, the researchers said.
"Circulating tumor cells [can be used] to evaluate the efficacy of surgery," study co-author Yoon-Tae Kang said in a press release.
The test can identify "changes in the number of circulating tumor cells," said Kang, a post-doctoral research fellow in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.