Skin cancer: new test detects melanoma cells in the blood

Skin cancer: new test detects melanoma cells in the blood

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Breakthrough in melanoma diagnosis

An Australian research team recently presented a new diagnostic method that can be used to detect circulating melanoma cells. The blood test has the potential to significantly improve the detection and treatment of dangerous skin cancers.

In collaboration with Harvard Medical School, researchers from Edith Cowan University in Australia have developed a new technique for the detection of tumor cells circulating in the blood. This method is intended to open up new avenues for cancer diagnosis and therapy. The study was recently presented in the renowned British Journal of Cancer.

Detect black skin cancer early

The new diagnosis offers the world's first method of detecting early-stage melanoma using a blood test. So-called malignant melanomas, better known as black skin cancer, are highly malignant tumors of the pigment cells. Melanomas have the potential to spread metastases across the lymph and bloodstream at an early stage. Black skin cancer is the most dangerous skin cancer and is often fatal.

Why can skin cancer be discovered through the blood?

"Cancer spreads in the body when circulating cancer cells are detached from the primary tumor and migrate through the blood to form secondary tumors (metastases) in other organs," explains Professor Elin Gray, the lead researcher. The new test offers a way to recognize these cells, which also gives the chance to stop the migrating cancer cells.

Circulating melanoma cells are difficult to detect

"These preliminary results are a first step in a new way to stop melanoma from spreading throughout the body," says Gray. Until now, the search for such circulating cells was more like the search for a needle in a haystack. Circulating melanoma cells are incredibly difficult to grasp.

It was a difficult task

"There is a wide variety in the shape and bioactivity of these circulating melanoma cells," Gray continues. Therefore, the cancer cells would look different in every person and also react differently to test procedures. In addition, the cancer cells are hidden in the blood between thousands of other cells. A milliliter of blood is often less than ten cancer cells. At the same time, there are one billion red and one million white blood cells in the same amount.

Test still needs to be optimized

"By combining three tests together, we increased the detection rates to 72 percent, which was a significantly and consistently higher result than with one test," sums up Dr. Gray. The team is now confident that this approach is a step towards reliable detection of circulating skin cancer cells. The research team is now working to improve the accuracy of the test to detect the widest possible range of circulating cancer cells. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Edith Cowan University: Research uncovers new path for melanoma detection and treatment (published: February 9th, 2020),
  • Carlos Alberto Aya-Bonilla, Michael Morici, Xin Hong, et al .: Detection and prognostic role of heterogeneous populations of melanoma circulating tumor cells; in: British Journal of Cancer, 2020,

Video: Anatomy. The Three Types of Skin Cancers (July 2022).


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