According to one recent study conducted by the Cancer Council of Australia, the skin cancer problem around the world — and particularly in Australia — has perhaps never been more severe than it is right now.
Roughly two out of every three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point before they turn 70. An additional 750,000 people are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers every year.
Not only does skin cancer account for about 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in this country, but the vast majority of them are directly related to exposure to the sun — to the tune of 95%.
So all of this is to say that yes, the situation and the consequences of a skin cancer diagnosis can often be dire, particularly when you’re talking about melanoma.
But even though this is one issue that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, the future is still a bright one. Case in point: over the last few years, research has uncovered that blood tests may be a a reliable method for skin cancer detection, allowing people access to accurate information faster than ever in a way that lets them act on it as soon as they can.
How Accurate Is Blood Testing for Skin Cancer Detection?
In what is already being hailed as a world first, this newly designed blood test (not yet publicly available) has already proven capable of detecting melanoma in its very early stages with an over 80% accuracy rate.
Melanoma, it’s important to note, is by far the most deadly form of skin cancer in existence. Over 59,000 lost their lives to the disease in 2015 alone, and Australians are particularly susceptible.
The blood test, named MelDX, works by detecting the types of antibodies that the body commonly produces immediately after melanoma itself begins to develop.
The steps researchers took to get to this point are, to put it mildly, fascinating:
A team analysed more than 1,600 different types of antibodies, then used that information to uncover the combination of 10 that indicate the presence of melanoma. Then, they took blood samples from 104 people with melanoma and 105 people without it. Their blood test, which is designed to look for this very specific combination of antibodies, was capable of detecting the cancer in 79% of the melanoma patients, showing a roughly 81.5% accuracy rate. The test only had a false positive rate of about 16%
The Future of Skin Cancer Detection and How It Affects Us
The reason doctors and scientists hail MelDX as a potential game changer ultimately comes down to three core factors.
1. If you can detect melanoma early enough, the survival rate rises to 95%. If this test rolls out to the public at large, it could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world every year.
2. Researchers indicate that the test can screen very low levels of these bio-markers — which means that the test could potentially be used to catch signs of cancer before a patient begins to experience symptoms.
3. The cost savings of this test would be enormous. The Australian health system alone spends $201 million every year on melanoma with an additional $73 million going to negative biopsies.
Any one of these factors would have incredible implications for all of us. When you consider that MelDX could bring with it all three of them at the exact same time, you’re talking about something of a perfect storm in the best possible way.
Important Considerations for Skin Cancer Detection and Blood Testing
At this point, it’s important to reiterate the fact that these skin cancer–detecting blood tests are still in their very early stages — the potential is still being researched at the moment. Further study will be required to help cement the accuracy of these tests, giving doctors and researchers a way to better identify false positives and negatives.
Knowing that you have a cancer marker does not help one know where that cancer is located. Those are two very different concepts and should always be treated as such. For example, people who test positive for melanoma will still need to have their skin checked because the test doesn’t actually indicate where melanoma is.
Likewise, researchers have yet to be sure at what stage the blood tests pick up the presence of skin cancer. If it isn’t earlier than we are already able to identify through imaging, it brings with it no tangible benefit over current techniques.
Having said that, this is still a potential breakthrough waiting to happen, and it could still mean important things for those at risk for skin cancer in Australia and around the world. But at this stage, there is unlikely to be any type of blood test such as these available for general release to the public for at least three years — if not more so.
Molemap: Combating Skin Cancer, Together
Even when these types of tests are more readily available, skin cancer checks are still important because knowing that there is a marker is not enough, you still need to identify where the melanoma is on your skin.
There are a number of proactive steps that you can take today to help improve survival and health outcomes moving forward. This includes checking your own skin regularly — especially if you’re in a group that is considered to be high risk. Regular skin checks are essential for your own health and wellbeing in the long-term.
Time matters. The sooner you realise that a problem may be present, the sooner you can team with the right healthcare professionals to do something about it.
If you’d just like to find out more about how you can take control of your own health by checking your skin on a regular basis, contact Molemap today.