In 2018, researchers from Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia discovered a new pathway to detect circulating tumor cells of melanoma and developed the first blood test to detect skin cancer. Further research led to a new study that describes a new biomarker that could help treat cancer more effectively.

The new paper was just published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. The study analyzes the DNA of melanoma cancer patients to identify who may benefit from combination immunotherapy.

Melanoma is one of Australia's most common cancers, which affect nearly 13,000 people each year. 10% of patients are diagnosed too late after cancer has already spread throughout the body. Nearly 1,700 Australians die of melanoma each year.

The serious form of skin cancer can rapidly spread to other organs if left untreated. The pigment skin cells, called melanocytes, are affected by too much exposure to ultraviolet light. Cancer begins with damaging melanocytes and makes its way into the deeper skin layers and the organs.

Choosing the Best Therapies

Professor Elin Gray said that choosing the right combination of drugs and therapies to treat the cancer is complex. Doctors have to consider numerous factors such as the characteristics of the tumor and the degree to which cancer has spread.

The recently discovered biomarker may "help clinicians to better determine which patients would have better outcomes if we hit cancer with aggressive combination immunotherapy first." The blood marker was discovered in patients with high levels of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA).

It is crucial, explained by Professor Gray, to determine when cancer should be treated with specific drug therapies and which patients would benefit from aggressive treatments. Another factor is considering the serious side effects of treatment.

The ain of the new study and further research on the current findings is so that doctors can develop personalized "therapy regimens based on specific disease characteristics and the patient."

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Blood Markers Indicating Cancer

For the study, 125 samples from 110 melanoma patients were tested for levels of the ctDNA biomarker before they underwent immunotherapy. 128 other patients were recruited to validate the significance of the blood marker indicating who would benefit from combination immunotherapy for their first treatment.

However, the biomarker did not help patients who already received immunotherapy as the second line of treatment. The ctDNA blood marker was only useful in predicting the survivability of patients who had immunotherapy as the first line of treatment.

Dr. Gray said that doctors would need to find alternative ways to determine if certain treatments would have a successful outcome or not. The new findings are part of the university's larger research on discovering biomarkers for cancer or liquid biopsy.

Blood markers help experts understand how specific cancers spread throughout the body so they can develop preventive therapies or make a diagnosis before tumors have severely progressed.

Dr. Gray concluded that their research has opened new possibilities to repurpose existing drugs to fight tumors. They aim to learn more about what makes tumors "more aggressive and resistant to therapies."

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