Cancer Research UK scientists found testing skin cancer patients’ blood for tumor DNA can potentially identify those who are most at risk of an aggressive cancer returning. The findings were published in the Annals of Oncology and could help patients in looking into new immunotherapy treatments.
“For some patients with advanced melanoma, their cancer will eventually return,” said Richard Marais, professor, lead researcher and director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at the University of Manchester. “We have no accurate tests to predict who these patients will be, so our findings are really encouraging. If we can use this tumor 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. 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.”
Scientists studied blood samples from 161 patients with stages 2 and 3 melanoma after surgery, looking for any defects in two genes linked to 70% of melanoma skin cancers: BRAF and NRAS. The scientists were led by researchers based at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
Results showed patients with either of the two defective genes were more likely to have skin cancer return within one year of surgery.
“Being able to develop an early warning system that will predict if a cancer will return could make a real difference to patients,” added Karen Vousden, professor and Cancer Research UK's chief scientist. “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.”