Australian scientists have developed the world’s first blood test to detect melanoma in its early stages.
Early trials of the test involving 209 people showed it was capable of picking up early stage melanoma in 81.5% of cases.
The next step for the scientists from Edith Cowan University is to carry out clinical trials to validate their findings, with hopes the test could be commercially available in about three to five years.
Professor Mel Ziman, head of the Melanoma Research Group at the university, said the test has the potential to save thousands of lives.
It can help deliver a more accurate diagnosis of early-stage melanoma, which can be tricky to detect with the human eye, particularly if small.
The test could also benefit people living in rural areas where it’s hard to get to a dermatologist.
“It’s critical that melanoma is diagnosed more accurately and early,” Ziman said. “So a blood test would help in that identification particularly at early stage melanoma, which is what is the most concerning and would be most beneficial for everybody if it was identified early.”
Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in Australia and claims the lives of about 1,500 people each year. About 14,000 cases were diagnosed in 2017.
Doctors currently rely on checking a patient’s skin to see any changes in existing moles or spots before making a diagnosis.
The blood test works by detecting 10 combinations of protein autoantibodies produced by the body in response to melanoma.
Ziman said the next step is to improve the sensitivity of the test, carry out extensive clinical trials and test results against biopsies of suspected melanomas.
If the trials prove successful, a pharmaceutical company would need to come on board to make the test commercially available around the world.
The blood test has been cautiously welcomed by health experts. The CancerCouncil Australia chief executive, Sanchia Aranda, said while it was an interesting development, Australians needed to keep checking their skin.
“It’s important all Australians keep a close eye on their skin and see their doctor straight away if they notice anything unusual,” she said.
Professor of Dermatology at the University of Melbourne, Rodney Sinclair, said the test still wasn’t 100% accurate.
“The false positive and false negative rates of this test mean that the results will need to be interpreted with caution and, where practical, combined with a full skin check by a dermatologist,” he said.