Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have developed the world's first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages, a breakthrough that will save thousands of lives, as well as millions of dollars for the health system.
Early detection the key to survival
Australia has the second-highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 14,000 new diagnoses and almost 2000 deaths each year.
Lead researcher and Pauline Zaenker said identifying melanoma early was the best way to prevent these deaths.
"Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five year survival rate between 90 and 99 per cent, whereas if it is not caught early and it spreads around the body, the five year survival rate drops to less than 50 per cent," she said.
"This is what makes this blood test so exciting as a potential screening tool, because it can pick up melanoma in its very early stages when it is still treatable."
Currently melanoma is most commonly detected via a visual scan by a clinician. Any suspicious areas of skin are excised and sent for a biopsy.
Ms Zaenker, from ECU's Melanoma Research Group, said the new blood test could provide doctors with a powerful new tool to detect melanoma before it spreads throughout the body.
"While clinicians do a fantastic job with the tools available, relying on biopsies alone can be problematic. We know that three out of four biopsies come back negative for melanoma," she said.
"The biopsies are quite invasive, with a minimum of 1cm by 1cm of skin excised from the patient."
"They are also costly, with previous research showing that the Australian health system spends $201 million on melanoma each year with an additional $73 million on negative biopsies."