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New Blood Test Finds Deadly Skin Cancer

People sunbathe on a beach in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
People sunbathe on a beach in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
New Blood Test Finds Deadly Skin Cancer
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Scientists in Australia say they have developed the world’s first blood test to find a deadly skin cancer in its early stages. They say the test could save thousands of lives each year.

Currently, to check for all kinds of skin cancers, doctors examine or remove a small piece of patients’ skin. But researchers say the new blood test can detect one of the deadliest kinds of skin cancer, melanoma, sooner than other methods.

In a trial involving about 200 people, the blood test found early stages of melanoma in more than 80 percent of cases.

Professor Mel Ziman is the leader of the Melanoma Research Group at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. Her group conducted this trial.

“If a thin melanoma is identified early and it’s removed, you have a 98 to 99 percent chance of five to ten years survival.”

Researchers explain that the sooner doctors find melanoma, the better. They say that if a thin melanoma is identified early and removed, patients have a 98 to 99 percent chance of surviving for the next five to ten years.

However, survival rates from melanoma drop sharply if the skin cancer is in later stages and has spread to other organs.

What is melanoma?

The World Health Organization says about 132,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year. Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates.

The website for the Melanoma Institute Australia says that in 2014, more than 1,400 Australians died from melanoma. And in 2017, that number rose to more than 1,800.

How do we get melanoma?

We get melanoma mainly by exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Patients often have had a lot of exposure to the sun and a history of sunburn.

On its website, the WHO says decreasing ozone levels is making the problem worse. The site adds that "as the atmosphere loses more and more of its protective filter ... and more solar UV radiation reaches the Earth's surface, more people will get skin cancer."

How does the blood test work?

The new blood test works by detecting something called auto-antibodies. The website for the National Cancer Institute in the United States defines auto-antibody as an antibody made against substances formed by a person’s own body. The body naturally forms auto-antibodies when cancerous cells start to appear.

In a statement to the press, Ziman explains that with melanoma, the human body makes these auto-antibodies very early. She says the new blood test takes advantage of that fact. However, she warns, “melanoma is very hard to diagnose.”

Researchers are planning more tests for the Australian blood test. They say they hope to improve its accuracy to 90 percent. The blood test could be available within five years.

Researchers have said the test will not detect other types of skin cancers. It will only find melanoma.

Other health experts say the results of the trial should be considered with care. They urge people to keep checking their skin for early signs of skin cancer.

Ziman says she hopes the new blood test will lead to more people checking their skin. She says that if the new blood test is available at a person’s yearly check-up, patients might get skin examinations more often. And more examinations might lead to more early detections of melanoma.

“So that’s what we are hoping to achieve is that people will feel more comfortable going for skin checks. So, it will just up the number of people that are aware and able to get their melanoma identified earlier."

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Phil Mercer reported this story for VOA News in Sydney. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English, using other news articles as well as several health and cancer-related websites. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


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Words in This Story

detect v. to discover or notice the presence of (something that is hidden or hard to see, hear, taste, etc.)

trialn. a test of the quality, value, or usefulness of something

diagnose v. to recognize a disease, illness, etc., in (someone)

ultraviolent adj. used to describe rays of light that cannot be seen and that are slightly shorter than the rays of violet light

radiation n. energy that comes from a source in the form of waves or rays you cannot see

ozone n. a form of oxygen that is found in a layer high in the earth's

take advantage of verbal phrase to use to advantage : profit by

accuracyn. freedom from mistake or error