Thursday, 29 January 2009
A team of scientists at Edith Cowan University are working on an early-detection test for melanoma, a leading cause of cancer death in Australia.
Associate Professor Melanie Ziman and her team have already developed a simple blood test to show the presence of melanoma cells in the blood stream, which indicates the presence of a melanoma somewhere on the body.
Now they are working on discovering what makes those melanoma cells switch to metastatic cells, the cause of potentially deadly secondary tumours.
"When a person has primary melanoma tumour it is on the surface of the skin it can be cut out and removed," says Prof Ziman. "Ninety percent of those cases are okay."
"The thing that kills with melanoma is that it spreads to other organs. If we can pick up the spread by doing the blood test, then we can identify the cells and target them, allowing the doctors to provide more strategic treatment. We are able to pick up that the cells are there, but now we need to work out how to tell which of the cells are dangerous.”
The test will have huge implications for people who have had primary melanomas removed. Secondary tumours can appear many years after the occurrence of the primary tumour and the tests that can be done for these potentially fatal reoccurrences are limited.
"It can be just a physical examination of their lymph nodes," says Professor Ziman. "They can do a PET scan, but that can only identify a tumour when it's big enough to pick up on a scan."
"Secondaries are the things that kill you, and they are spreading and you don't even know."
Associate Professor Ziman and her team are working closely with the Cancer Council, who provided the funding for the project, to raise awareness of melanoma, especially among younger people.
"Every year over 430,000 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer," says Professor Ziman. "It is now the most common cancer for people between the ages of fifteen to thirty nine. In young men it is now the number one cancer-related cause of death."