Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK according to Cancer Research UK, and now an early blood test can help pinpoint whether one of the most dangerous forms of the disease is likely to return

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42 people are diagnosed with skin cancer  every day in Britain, and rates of one of the most fatal forms of the disease, malignant melanoma, have increased markedly in the past decade according to  Cancer Research UK . However, a groundbreaking new finding by scientists at the Manchester Institute of Cancer Research UK  has discovered that an early detection blood test could help to identify the possible return of malignant melanoma among skin cancer patients, allowing earlier treatment, better survival rates and giving us further insight into what remains a poorly understood disease.

The blood test detects tumour DNA, with a focus on two genes linked to malignant melanoma. Researchers found that when blood tests came back positive for the harmful BRAF and NRAS genes, which are present in 70 per cent of malignant melanoma cases, the cancer was much more likely to return within a year of initial treatment.

Overall, the study found that after five years of skin cancer surgery, 65 per cent of patients without the gene were still alive, compared to just 30 per cent who tested positive for the BRAF and NRAS genes. This may seem like bad news on paper, but the findings could offer a brighter outlook for skin cancer patients and their families, as there is currently no way of predicting whether malignant melanoma will reoccur in the future.

This blood test could enable skin cancer patients to benefit from crucial treatment earlier, thereby improving survival rates, as lead researcher and Institute director Professor Richard Marais explains:

"If we can use this tumour 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."

That something so straightforward as a blood test could save lives is a ray of hope in cancer research - survival rates for skin cancer are getting better all the time, and this could boost survival stats even more.

Find out more about malignant melanoma and other forms of skin cancer at the  Cancer Research UK website 

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