A blood test may help identify which patients with surgically removed melanoma lesions are at highest risk for recurrence, and which might benefit from immunotherapy.
In a press release from Cancer Research U.K., researchers explain how they studied blood samples taken after surgery from 161 patients with high-risk stage 2 and 3 melanoma. The samples were examined for faults in two genes linked to 70% of melanoma skin cancers—BRAF and NRAS.
Five years after surgery, 33% of the patients who had a positive blood test for faults in either of the two genes were still alive, vs. 65% of patients who had no such faults found in their blood test, according to the findings, published online in Annals of Oncology (Nov. 3, 2017).
Skin cancer was also more likely to return within one year of surgery in patients with one of the mutations.
Professor Richard Marais, lead researcher and director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, based at the University of Manchester, said in the release: “For some patients with advanced melanoma, their cancer will eventually return. We have no accurate tests to predict who these patients will be, so our findings are really encouraging. If we can use this tumour DNA test to accurately predict if cancer is going to come back, then it could help doctors decide which patients could benefit from new immunotherapies. These treatments can then reduce the risk of the cancer spreading. The next step is to run a trial where patients have regular blood tests after their initial treatment has finished in order to test this approach.”
Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “Being able to develop an early warning system that will predict if a cancer will return could make a real difference to patients. Research like this shows that for some cancers, there may be ingenious solutions—such as a blood test. If follow-up research shows that this test can be used to inform treatment decisions and improve outlook, it could be a game-changer in our ability to deal with advanced skin cancer."