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Melanoma diagnosis in hours with new test

AAP logoAAP 17/11/2016 Helen Velissaris

Advanced melanoma patients will be able to get a diagnosis of how far along their cancer is within hours, not weeks, thanks to a new blood test.

The "liquid biopsy" blood test was pioneered in Victoria by the Melbourne Melanoma Project and has saved lives by telling doctors almost instantaneously what melanoma mutations exist in a patient's DNA.

That information is then used to treat them with targeted medication for that strain of melanoma.

Normally surgical biopsies can take up to three weeks to give doctors that information.

The test is now available to advanced melanoma patients through the Olivia Newton John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre and has had impressive results.

Medical Director of the centre, Professor Johnathan Cebon said a severely ill melanoma patient recently managed to get treated within hours after the centre did the test.

"He was on death's door and literally on the following morning he was able to sit up and have breakfast," Prof Cebon told reporters on Friday.

The test is also used to track how treatment is progressing, giving doctors a visible view of how many mutated genes exist in the blood stream over time, tracking the cancer's retreat.

Researchers are confident the test can be applied for other cancers, with tests already underway to see if it can be used for lung cancer.

Currently it is used on advanced melanoma patients but researchers believe the test will help in diagnosing early stage melanoma too.

Touring the facility on Friday, Health Minister Jill Hennessy called the test a "very important breakthrough".

About 1400 people die from melanoma in Australia every year.

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