r. Other human cells do not contain pigments with the same color as melanin, so the melanin signature is easy to tell apart from other noises, said John Viator, a biomedical engineer at Missouri-Columbia and a coauthor of the Optics Letters paper. And the presence of melanin granules in the blood is an unmistakable sign. "The only reason there could be melanin in the human blood is that there would be melanoma cells," he said.
This new blood test would allow for a much more timely diagnosis of metastasis and with early diagnosis comes early treatment and increased likelihood for survival. As one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, if a melanoma is not removed at its earliest stages, it will penetrate into the deep layers of the skin. From there its cells can break off and pass into the circulatory and lymphatic systems, spreading to other organs and creating metastases even after the original melanoma has been surgically removed.
An earlier metastasis warning, as this blood test provides, could alert oncologists to the cancer when it’s at its earliest stages in other parts of the body and help them to begin a quicker counterattack, for example by administering chemotherapy, said Viator. "Our method can help doctors plan treatment to battle the spread of the disease," he said.
Current techniques to monitor the disease spread and recurrence have proven to be inaccurate, time-consuming and painful, according to the researchers. This new blood test would enable physicians to have a more accurate method of monitoring for metastasis.
In fact, the blood-test procedure could be performed regularly such as in screenings for high-risk patients, requiring just a small sample of blood, and its results would be almost immediate. "It could take just 30 minutes to find out if there are any circulating cancer cells," Viator said.
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