Scientists have developed a new test that reliably predicts the spread, or return, of the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The technological advance followed a breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of skin cancer growth.
More than 16,000 people in the UK and 96,000 people in the US are diagnosed with melanoma every year.
Professor Penny Lovat, who led the work on the test, said it will reassure patients who are less at risk of the disease spreading.
The test, known as AMBLor, is applied to a standard biopsy of the primary melanoma when it is removed and will identify patients who are at low risk of cancer reoccurring or spreading.
It provides anyone diagnosed with a non-ulcerated early-stage melanoma – accounting for around 75% of all new diagnoses – with more accurate information.
“Our test offers a personalised prognosis as it more accurately predicts if your skin cancer is unlikely to spread,” said Professor Lovat, of Newcastle University.
“This test will aid clinicians to identify genuinely low-risk patients diagnosed with an early-stage melanoma and to reduce the number of follow-up appointments for those identified as low risk, saving the NHS time and money.”
The British Skin Foundation supported the research, done in association with the university spin-out firm Amlo Biosciences.
The foundation’s chief operating officer, Phil Brady, said: “The development of the AMBLor test can alleviate stress and anxiety for patients caused by this potentially deadly skin cancer, whilst increasing efficiency and reducing costs to the NHS.”
The team has applied to make the test available on the NHS.
Cory Inglis, 49, had a biopsy for a melanoma which will be sent for analysis in the new AMBLor test.
He said the test “helps significantly with the anxiety of an already very stressful situation”.
Currently, primary tumours are removed by surgery and pathologists study the biopsy under the microscope to determine the stage the skin cancer is at and the risk of it spreading.
Even if defined as low risk, the patient is followed up in a clinic for as long as five years – and it is these patients that the test is able to identify.