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Blood tests can quickly measure skin cancer treatment effectiveness

Friday 31st May 2019
A new blood test has been developed that can track the effectiveness of skin cancer treatments after just one month.
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As tumours grow, new cancer cells replace old ones, which die off and release their DNA into the bloodstream. New blood tests have been developed to take advantage of his fact, and a study has shown they can be used to measure the effectiveness of skin cancer treatments after just a month of drug therapy.

Researchers from NYU School of Medicine and Perlmutter Cancer Center tracked circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) for the cancer gene BRAF in blood samples from 345 patients with stage III or IV melanoma. At this stage of skin cancer, tumours had spread to organs besides the skin.

These patients could not be treated with surgery due to the spread of the cancer, and as such were participating in a clinical trial of the drugs dabrafenib and trametinib. These medications specifically target cancers with the BRAF gene mutation, which is present in around half of all skin cancer cases.

Using the new blood tests, researchers were able to detect the BRAF mutation in 93 per cent of participants before they started treatment. In 40 per cent of patients, the BRAF ctDNA was undetectable after a month of the drugs. These participants had a positive clinical outcome, with an average survival time of 28 months.

In contrast, the 60 per cent of patients for whom the ctDNA was still detectable went on to have negative clinical outcomes, responding poorly to the drugs. This group went on to have an average survival time of just 14 months. Given the test’s effectiveness, this can now be caught early and treatment plans adjusted accordingly.

Senior study investigator Dr David Polsky said: “Our study offers firm evidence that tracking this genetic information may be helpful in identifying patients whose cancers shrink and who survive longer as a result of a particular drug regimen.”

Written by Martin Lambert

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