New Way To Predict The Spread Of Skin Cancer

A new way of predicting whether skin cancers will spread to other organs is published this week in the British Journal of Cancer. This means that resources can be concentrated on those patients most in need of close follow up, and lead to earlier detection of the cancer spreading.

Malignant melanomas result in 1,600 deaths a year in the UK due to the spread of the disease to other parts of the body. By measuring the density of lymph vessels surrounding a melanoma, scientists at Bristol University working with doctors at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, have been able to predict which tumours will spread.

Previously, the best way of predicting whether a melanoma was likely to spread was by measuring its thickness, since it was believed that the thicker a tumour was, the more likely it was to spread. But many thin melanomas spread and only 40% of thick ones do.

The team looked for, and found, a far more reliable method of prediction than thickness. They looked at the density of lymph vessels around melanomas stored at Frenchay Hospital and saw which patients actually went on to develop secondary cancers within 8 years. They used this information to develop a better prediction for the spread of the cancers.

Dr David Bates, scientific director of the Microvascular Research Laboratories at Bristol University said: ‘We shall now be looking at a larger study of many hundreds of patients. If our findings are confirmed it will mean that the likelihood of a patient developing cancer in other organs could be predicted ahead of time with reasonable certainty. Resources can then be concentrated on those patients most in need of close follow up, and hopefully lead to earlier detection of the spread of cancer.’

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