A diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer can be frightening to most patients because it is considered to be the most deadly type of skin cancer. One of the reasons that melanoma has such a high risk associated with it is because this type of skin cancer can metastasize or spread to internal organs. The risk of metastasis varies depending upon which stage of melanoma you have. Early melanomas which are thin and less than 1 millimeter in thickness have an extremely high success rate of being treated and cured. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that surgical removal of these superficial melanomas which are confined to the top layers of skin offers a cure for 95% of patients. There is still some chance that even these early stage thin melanomas can spread and if your skin cancer is not detected until it has progressed, the risk of metastasis is even greater.
According to the American Association for Cancer Research the risk for your skin cancer to spread is less than 10 percent for patients with stage 1A melanoma or as high as 70 percent for patients diagnosed with stage 3C. If your doctor or dermatologist feels that you are at risk for melanoma metastasis, they will order diagnostic tests to see if your skin cancer has spread and if so, which organs of the body have been affected. Usually imaging tests are involved in this process.
The Melanoma Research Foundation provides a detailed description of the imaging tests your doctor may use including chest X-Rays, CT scans, MRI’s, Positron Emission Tomography, or in rare cases a bone scan. The use of imaging tests can be costly and time consuming, not to mention the risks of radiation involved in doing multiple scans. Now there may be an easier and less costly way to assess the risk of metastasis for patients diagnosed with melanoma.
This month the American Association for Cancer Research reports that a blood test may be able to predict the spread of skin cancer for melanoma patients. A study conducted at Yale University School of Medicine found plasma biomarkers to differentiate patients with metastatic melanoma and patients who had no spread to other organs. High blood levels of seven proteins were found in study subjects who had metastatic melanoma. This study holds promise for being a more cost efficient diagnostic test for those who have melanoma and want to know if their skin cancer has spread.
Some experts, however, question whether these biomarkers are as accurate a test as traditional imaging scans. Would a blood test ever replace the current ways of predicting the risk of metastasis or is it best used in conjunction with traditional diagnostic tests? Is there further applicability of such a blood test to predict the recurrence of melanoma? These are the questions which still remain unanswered at this time.
The results of this study can be found in the April issue of Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.