New test for melanoma may reduce need for biopsies


A validation study published in the International Journal of Dermatology (2021; 60:851–856) outlines how a new test for melanoma could not only more accurately diagnose the disease, but also reduce the need for follow-up sentinel node biopsies. Approximately 85% of these biopsies are negative, according to the report.


The assay, called Merlin, combines a patient’s genetic information from a skin biopsy with other characteristics that help to indicate whether or not an individual patient may be at risk of sentinel node metastases.


The study involved 208 adult patients with primary melanoma at the Mayo Clinic and West Virginia University. The study authors indicate the Merlin assay may be most applicable in patients 65 years of age or older.


Patients newly diagnosed with melanoma usually undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy to determine if the cancer has spread. Implementing the Merlin assay could allow patients at low risk of metastasis to avoid the biopsy.


"We found that the Merlin test was able to achieve a reduction of 42 per cent of unnecessary surgeries because the melanomas of patients were identified as low-risk disease―tumour stages 1 and 2,” said lead author Dr. Alexander Meves in a press release.


“Our data will further inform physicians, patients and insurance companies about the usefulness of the test.” Dr. Meves is a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he leads the Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine.