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Manchester scientists find new test predicts skin cancer return

New findings from the CRUK Manchester Institute show that a test for tumour DNA in the blood can predict skin cancer returning

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Recently published research, led by scientists at Manchester University’s Cancer Research Manchester Institute and The Christie has found a test that can predect whether or not skin cancer will return.

The study looked at the blood samples of stage two and three melanoma skin cancer patients. 70 per cent of melanoma skin cancers are linked to harmful mutations in two genes: BRAF and NRAS. This study showed that, within five years of surgery, only 33 per cent of patients who tested positive for faults in either of these genes survived, whereas mutation-free patients had a 65 per cent survival rate.

These results suggest that testing positive for these mutations is associated with a much higher probability of the skin cancer returning, and the patient relapsing.

“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,” Professor Richard Marais, lead researcher and director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said.

“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.”

Every year 15,400 people in the UK are diagnosed with a malignant melanoma or skin cancer. Around 2,500 of which will die as a result, despite chances of survival doubling in the past 40 years.

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.”

Professor Marais added: “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.”