New blood test could improve skin cancer treatment

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An Inside Look at Melanoma and Its Treatment

Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, has presented substantial challenges in managing and treating its more advanced stages.

When we talk about “BRAF wild-type (BRAF WT) stage III and IV melanoma,” we are referring to a severe level of this cancer in which the usual mutations (changes in the DNA) aren’t present, making it difficult to target with specific existing treatments.

The treatment scenario gets particularly complicated for about half of the melanoma patients who don’t have a common mutation, termed “BRAF p.V600.”

While there are treatments available, such as inhibitors targeting BRAF/MEK (specific proteins altered by mutations) and immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs, which help the immune system fight the cancer), their efficacy can vary, especially for those without the BRAF p.V600 mutation.

This variety in response has urged scientists to seek methods to predict which patients are more likely to benefit from specific treatments.

ctDNA: A Potential Game-Changer in Melanoma Management

In a new scientific exploration, Dr. Vanessa F. Bonazzi and Dr. Lauren G. Aoude dive into the potential of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) as a pivotal tool in managing melanoma more effectively.

Simply put, ctDNA is fragments of DNA released into the blood by tumor cells.

The team aimed to identify specific changes or variants in ctDNA that could lead to improved treatment strategies and outcomes for patients, especially those with BRAF WT melanoma.

Their study involved analyzing ctDNA from blood samples of 106 patients and tracking the changes over time in a subset of these individuals.

A compelling finding was that 85% of patients had detectable variants in their ctDNA, and these variants were in pathways that could potentially be targeted with treatments.

What grabbed attention was that ctDNA wasn’t just an indicator of possible treatment targets but also held prognostic value.

For example, patients in stage IV melanoma with lower ctDNA concentrations (below 10 ng/mL) experienced notably better outcomes in terms of survival and time to disease progression compared to those with higher concentrations or detectable ctDNA variants, which were associated with less favorable outcomes.

The Potential and Convenience of Liquid Biopsies

The results garnered from the study illuminated a few promising aspects. First, the changes in ctDNA levels over time appeared to align with how patients were responding to treatments and how their disease was progressing, as confirmed by imaging studies.

This means, by regularly measuring ctDNA levels, healthcare providers might be able to adapt treatment strategies in real-time, providing an approach that’s specifically tailored to how an individual’s disease is behaving.

Furthermore, this could all be achieved with a simple blood test – a liquid biopsy – which is far less invasive than traditional tissue biopsies and more convenient than frequent PET/CT scans.

Dr. Bonazzi and Dr. Aoude highlight an instance where if a patient’s ctDNA shows a particular mutation (like a PIK3CA mutation), healthcare providers could monitor it over time with blood tests and, if it shows signs of increasing, could introduce a PIK3CA inhibitor to potentially prevent recurrence of the disease.

Navigating Forward with ctDNA in Melanoma Treatment

The work of the investigators brings to light the multifaceted value of ctDNA, showcasing its potential not just as a tool to identify actionable mutations and guide treatment decisions but also as an indicator of disease progression and survival outcomes.

This approach could significantly refine how clinicians manage melanoma, especially in its advanced stages, providing a non-invasive and repeatable method to glean vital information about the behavior of the disease and the effectiveness of ongoing treatments.

Ultimately, the employment of ctDNA as a clinical tool underscores a step forward in personalizing and optimizing melanoma management, offering an enhanced, patient-specific strategy in the ongoing battle against this formidable form of cancer.

If you care about skin health, please read studies about top signs of diabetic skin disease, and Mediterranean diet could help lower the skin cancer risk.

For more information about skin health, please see recent studies about eating fish linked to higher risk of skin cancer, and results showing how to combat the effects of aging on your skin

The research findings can be found in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.

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