New blood test could detect skin cancer early, study finds

A doctor checks a patient for signs of skin cancer.   Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Researchers in Australia have developed a blood test that could potentially detect melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, in its early stages.

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Scientists at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup, Australia, recruited a total of 245 study participants who were either healthy or diagnosed by routine pathological exams of their respective tumors. Researchers obtained a once-off blood sample from the participants, typically within one month of tumor diagnosis and excision.

Of the 245 blood samples collected, the researchers were able to identify those with melanoma with 79 percent accuracy and those without the cancer with 84 percent accuracy.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Oncotarget.

"In order for it to be valued by clinicians we would need to get to 90 percent accuracy in detection," lead researcher Mel Ziman told CNN. "So we are doing a clinical trial with 1000 participants to refine our test to get to this point."

And if future clinical trials prove successful, Ziman predicts blood tests may be globally distributed in up to five years, she said.

“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,” study authors wrote. “Complementary diagnostic tools, such as blood tests, are needed to increase melanoma screening efficiency,” they added, emphasizing that in Australia, only 5 percent of health care costs associated with melanoma focus on early management, with the remaining 95 percent on treatment.

“Early detection and treatment could not only drastically improve patient 5-year survival rates to 99%, but also lower the financial burden of the disease on the health care system,” the researchers wrote.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and affected 22.1 per 100,000 Americans in 2015, including at least 8,885 deaths. That's approximately 80,442 reported cases total, nearly double the number of cases reported in 1999.

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