Australian scientists said they have developed a new blood test to detect melanoma cancer in its early stages, in a move that could save millions of lives and significantly reduce costs to the healthcare system.

The test works by detecting antibodies produced by the body in response to melanoma and identifying the skin cancer cells before they spread, according to a statement on the work by Edith Cowan University scientists.

They said the blood test was trialed on 209 people, 105 of whom had melanoma, and picked up early-stage melanoma in 81.5 per cent of the cases.

The team examined more than 1,600 different antibodies and identified a combination of 10 that were considered
to be the most reliable in predicting the presence of melanoma.

Survival rates for melanoma are between 90 and 95 per cent if the disease is detected early, but if the cancer
spreads, survival rates drop to below 50 per cent.

Currently, melanomas are detected visually by clinicians, with any areas of concern biopsied, but three out of four biopsies return negative results, said the researchers, whose findings have also been published in the Oncotarget biomedical journal.

“Biopsies are uncomfortable for patients and expensive,” with Australia spending more than 200 million Australian dollars (147.7 million U.S. dollars) annually, more than 70 million Australian dollars (51.7 million U.S. dollars) of which is accounted for by negative biopsies, they said.

Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with more than 1,800 Australians expected to die from the skin cancer in 2017 alone, according to the Melanoma Institute Australia nonprofit healthcare group.

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