Scientists have developed a test which can predict whether a melanoma is unlikely to spread or could return.
They hope the pioneering work could be available for widespread use in two years, saving patients’ worry and the NHS millions of pounds.
The prognostic test for the earliest stages of melanoma, which is the most deadly type of skin cancer, is known as AMBLor and is able to better identify a patient’s true risk of disease progression.
Developed by Newcastle University, it provides all those diagnosed with stage one melanoma with more accurate information about the risk of the disease spreading.
Melanoma is increasing worldwide and 17,000 patients are diagnosed every year in the UK alone.
Researchers have found that two kinds of protein markers that are normally found in the epidermis, or upper layer of the skin, are lost in patients with early-stage melanoma that is associated with high-risk tumours, while the markers are retained with genuinely low-risk tumours.
By using the AMBLor test on a biopsy of the primary tumour after its removal, patients can be identified who have the low-risk, less aggressive cancers.
One of them was Tyne Tees TV news presenter Pam Royle, a well-known face in the North East, who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2016.
The test revealed she was a low-risk patient, and she said: “It is remarkable that patients may soon be given this information.
“Knowing that you are low risk and that your melanoma is unlikely to spread or return will remove a lot of the worry for so many people.
“It will also free up more NHS services to look after those who are classed as high risk and who need more treatment and care.”
Chief scientist Penny Lovat, professor of cellular dermatology and oncology at Newcastle University, said: “As a patient, the AMBLor test tells you if you’re in the low risk category – and can offer you reassurance.
“It could also save the NHS up to £38 million a year by reducing the number of follow-up appointments for those identified as low-risk.”
Lecturer and consultant dermatologist Dr Rob Ellis, who worked on the test, said: “We are working with NICE to show the value of this test to the NHS and we are currently gathering evidence to present to them.
“We expect this to take less than 2 years.”
The research is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.