Melanoma Metastasis Test

Uveal melanoma 15 gene sequencing test for metastasis probability

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Although it's extremely rare, melanoma can be found on nearly any surface tissue, from unlikely places like the eye or underneath a fingernail.

Doctors working with melanoma removal from the eye have developed test to evaluate the cancer.

The most important treatment for melanoma is complete removal before metastasis. At that point survival is 98 percent.  

The odds aren't so good for metastatic melanoma, skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, because no effective treatment has been found so far.

Researchers have developed a test that can predict whether the most common form of eye cancer, ocular melanoma, will spread to other parts of the body. The test uses a small sample of the tumor to predict if metastasis is likely.

"Talk to your doctor about regular check ups for melanoma"

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis developed a genetic profile test that looks at 21 genes for predictable patterns, allowing doctors to know how aggressive the melanoma will act.

William Harbour, MD, led the research team that developed the test for eye melanomas, which the literature calls uveal melanoma. Getting more information about how likely the cancer is to metastasize is the most important step for picking treatments.

“When the cancer spreads beyond the eye, it’s unlikely any therapy is going to be effective,” Dr. Harbour stated. “But it’s very possible that we can develop treatments to slow the growth of metastatic tumors."

Being able to save the most drastic treatments for the most aggressive cancers is useful for preventing unnecessary complications.

"The real importance of this test is that by identifying the type of tumor a patient has, we can first remove the tumor from the eye with surgery or radiation and then get those individuals at high risk into clinical trials that might be able to help them live longer.”

In 459 patients with ocular melanoma at 12 centers in the United States and Canada, the researchers found the test could successfully classify tumors more than 97 percent of the time.

Research began with a initial group of a thousand genes that commonly mutated in melanoma tumors, but ended up with a dozen reliable genes. The test uses a small number of cells from the tumor via a needle biopsy.

In contrast to more typical genetics tests that look at one or two genes, Dr. Harbour feels that his method is more comprehensive.

“I compare it to how our brains recognize faces,” he says. “We don’t just focus on somebody’s nose. We take in all of the information from the entire face. This test takes information from the entire tumor, so if the ‘nose’ in the ‘picture’ is out of focus for some reason, it still can analyze other things.”

Research was published online on April 21, 2012 by the journal Ophthalmology.

Washington University in St. Louis disclosed a related license on royalties from Castle Biosciences, Inc.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 15, 2012
Last Updated:
July 25, 2012