• Science Saturday: Melanoma test to help some patients avoid surgical biopsy

closeup of brown, cancerous mole, melanoma

More than 100,00 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year — double the number of cases compared to 30 years ago, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. 

"Melanoma accounts for only about 2% of skin cancers, but it causes a majority of skin cancer deaths," says Alexander Meves, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist whose laboratory in Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine works on cutting-edge methods to diagnose and treat melanoma.

In a new study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, Dr. Meves and his team validated a diagnostic test they developed for melanoma, called Merlin, that combines a patient's genetic information from a skin biopsy with other characteristics to show whether they are at risk of their cancer spreading.

Dr. Meves says that typically people who are newly diagnosed with melanoma undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which is an invasive surgical procedure, where some of the small round nodes that can transport cancer cells are removed and analyzed to find out if the cancer has spread from the skin. He says the Merlin assay could allow some patients at low risk of metastasis avoid having the biopsy.

"We found that the Merlin test was able to achieve a reduction of 42% of unnecessary surgeries because the melanomas of patients were identified as low-risk disease ― tumor stages 1 and 2," explains Dr. Meves. "Our data will further inform physicians, patients and insurance companies about the usefulness of the test."

The study involved 208 adult patients with primary melanoma at Mayo Clinic and West Virginia University. Patients were stratified according to their risk for nodal metastasis.

He says additional validation studies are ongoing, including a prospective study on the Merlin test set to start at Mayo Clinic this summer.

Read the rest of the article on the Center for Individualized Medicine blog.


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