A new test that reliably predicts the spread or return of the deadliest form of skin cancer has been developed by scientists working with the University of Newcastle.
The test identifies a patient’s true risk of disease progression and provides anyone diagnosed with a non-ulcerated early-stage melanoma - accounting for around 75% of all new diagnoses - more accurate information about the risk of the disease spreading. Melanoma is increasing worldwide and every year more than 16,000 people in the UK and 96,000 people in the US are diagnosed with the cancer.
‘Like mortar and bricks holding together a wall, AMBRA1, Loricrin and Claudin 1 are all proteins key to maintaining the integrity of the upper layer of the skin,’ said Senior author Professor Penny Lovat, Professor of Cellular Dermatology and Oncology at Newcastle University.
‘When these proteins are lost gaps develop – like the mortar crumbling away in the wall. This allows the tumour to spread and ultimately ulcerate which we know is a process associated with higher risk tumours. Our new understanding of this biological mechanism underpins the test we have available.’
In the research, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the authors explain how early-stage melanomas at risk of spreading secrete a growth factor, which causes the reduction, or downregulation, of the proteins AMBRA1 and Loricrin, both of which are found in the skin overlaying the tumour. The growth factor also causes the loss of claudin-1 leading to loss of the integrity of the skin and facilitating ulceration.
‘This is excellent news,’ said Professor Nick Levell, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. ‘This new test for melanoma will help many people with skin cancer. People at low risk can be reassured and will not have to attend hospital so often for check-ups. This British Skin Foundation co-funded research is an important step forward in making care after melanoma more personal.’