According to a research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute ( NCRI ) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, a simple blood test can show whether or not the melanoma has spread in the body. Melanoma is the most severe form of skin cancer; although it represents about 5 % of cases of skin cancer, melanoma is responsible for most deaths due to these cancers.
While examining DNA ( derived from tumor cells ) in the blood, researchers turned their attention to a gene called TFP12, which is involved in controlling the proliferation of cells. Researchers found that in melanoma patients, this gene is switched off. It seems that when this gene become methylated, it leads to uncontrolled cell proliferation. The researchers also found that this switch is associated with another event that determines the prognosis of patients with melanoma, specifically, it indicates whether melanoma has spread to other parts of the body or not. According to the study, early stage melanoma is related to the low levels of DNA methylation, while advanced stages are correlated with high levels of DNA methylation.
Researchers believe that a blood test to measure the level of DNA methylation ( methylated TFP12 in DNA) could easily orient doctors regarding tumor stage. This test would help both in determining the prognosis of patients and establishing the future treatment. Dr Tim Crook, study author and a consultant medical oncologist based at the University of Dundee, said that once melanoma has begun to spread, it becomes difficult to treat. Moreover, detecting whether or not the tumor caused metastases is also challenging. According to Crook, there is increasingly more evidence that treatments are more effective if given early, therefore identifying patients whose cancer has just begun to spread would significantly improve the chances of fighting the disease.
Besides TFP12, researchers discovered another biomarker that could become a potential therapeutic target : NT5E. It seems that this gene becomes methylated once melanoma develops and if it returns to its initial state, that is unmethylated, this gene reactivates and promotes a faster and more aggressive spread. Now, researchers hope to find a drug to target this gene to treat aggressive forms of melanoma. Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chair of the NCRI, said that thanks to research, more than 8 in 10 people survive melanoma at least 10 years. He added that there is still much work to be done to improve things especially for patients whose disease has spread to other parts of the body.