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Test 'could detect skin cancer relapse'

08 March 2016 09:31

A patient undergoing a blood test

A patient undergoing a blood test

A newly developed blood test could improve the chances of survival for people with the most dangerous type of skin cancer - advanced melanoma - scientists are hoping.

Researchers say their new screening technique can pick up signs of tumour DNA in the bloodstream.

That, they hope, will provide patients with an early warning system if the disease is becoming resistant to the treatment they're undergoing, enabling them to be offered new therapies at an earlier stage.

Targeted drugs

Targeted drugs are used to successfully treat up to 50% of patients with advanced melanoma - something which people holidaying abroad can cover themselves for with a specialist skin cancer travel insurance policy.

But for many others the standard treatment either does not work at all or soon becomes ineffectual. Those patients can then be offered advanced immunotherapy drugs, something the researchers hope could now be done much sooner thanks to the new blood test.

Funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, the research has been published in the Cancer Discovery journal.

Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, Professor Peter Johnson, admits such blood tests will not be seen in clinics for "some time". But eventually, he adds, it is hoped they will help keep doctors one step ahead when they are treating cancer.

'Early detection vital'

Professor Johnson says while melanoma can remain dormant for years, it can reappear suddenly, probably when it breaks free from the control of a patient's immune system.

The new test, he adds, will be able to help doctors monitor the evolution of cancers after treatment, enabling them to intervene sooner and prevent patients from relapsing by offering other treatments.

Professor Richard Marais, of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, meanwhile, says having the ability to detect the earliest signs of a relapse is vitally important.

It is hoped the new blood test, he adds, will pave the way for relapsing patients to get the alternative treatment they need at a much earlier stage.

Professor Marais says the test will not be able to be used on patients until it has been tested and proven successful in further clinical trials.