| 18.07,18. 06:23 AM |
Melanoma blood test could save lives by detecting cancer cells before they spread
Photo: Currently the most effective way to detect melanoma is by examining the skin and having a biopsy. (Supplied: Victorian Melanoma Service)
Testing for melanoma with a blood sample could save hundreds of lives each year by detecting cancer cells in the body before they spread.
Currently, the most effective way to detect melanoma is by examining the skin and taking a biopsy.
A blood test could pick up the cancer much sooner — allowing for earlier treatment and much better chances of survival.
Professor Mel Zimon from Edith Cowan University said the blood test identified auto-antibodies, which are the body's response to the presence of cancer cells.
"It's important to pick up melanoma early and the blood test we have developed is able to do this," she said.
"We were able to detect melanomas that were less than 1 millimetre in depth, which was fantastic."
In tests on 105 melanoma patients and 104 healthy people, the test was accurate in detecting cancer in almost 80 per cent of people.
Researchers at the university now hope to take blood from 1,000 people with suspected melanoma to further assess how accurate the test is.
Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with the average survival time for people with late-stage melanoma between six and 12 months.
For melanoma patient Clinton Heal, such a blood test could have had a dramatic impact on his health.
When he was 22, he thought the lump in his neck was a football injury.
"When the doctors asked me, 'when was your last skin check?' — I said 'never'," he said.
Doctors told him he had multiple secondary melanomas, and he needed chemotherapy and surgery.
"I was shocked. I felt fit as a fiddle," he said.
Mr Heal is now in his 30s and after years of treatment, is cancer-free. He's now devoted his life to helping others with melanoma.
Blood test 'must be combined with skin check'
Professor of dermatology from the University of Melbourne, Rodney Sinclair, said the new blood test was a "promising step forward".
"The test can detect melanoma in 79 per cent of affected people but miss it in 21 per cent," he said.
"These rates mean that the results will need to be interpreted with caution and where practical, combined with a full skin check by a dermatologist."
Researchers said even if the blood test came back positive, patients would still need a biopsy to see how advanced the cancer was.
The research paper has been published in the journal Oncotarget.