Is this a Quicker Way to Evaluate Melanoma Treatment?

Researchers at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine and Perlmutter Cancer Center think that they have found a “needle in the haystack”: a finding that could drastically change how metastatic melanoma is treated.

Evaluating the progress of metastatic cancer treatment has always been a long, drawn-out process. Once a course of treatment is started, it can take months before X-rays and CT scans will show whether a tumor is responding well to that treatment.

But, the discovery of unique biomarkers for certain cancers - such as prostate, breast, and colon - is changing how treatments are being assessed. Blood tests that identify these biomarkers have been developed to more accurately monitor treatment for these types of cancer.

Although it is great that the treatment of these cancers can now be better assessed, a reliable biomarker for skin cancer melanoma has eluded researchers. Until possibly now.

NYU scientists found that monitoring blood levels of specific DNA fragments released by dying tumor cells acts as a very accurate early indicator of a treatment’s success. The gene-based blood test they developed from these findings can provide feedback weeks after starting treatment rather than months.

With this blood test, physicians could monitor melanoma treatment progress more easily, more often, and at a less expensive cost than current imaging methods.

“Our findings suggest that levels of ctDNA may serve as a fast and reliable tool to gauge whether an anticancer medication is working,” says study senior author David Polsky, MD, PhD. “The blood test results could help support continuing the current treatment strategy or else encourage patients and physicians to consider other options,” adds Dr. Polsky, the Alfred W. Kopf, MD, Professor of Dermatologic Oncology at NYU Langone Health and member of Perlmutter Cancer Center.

It will be a while before doctors have this tool in their toolbox. The blood test still needs FDA approval.