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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

New Test Helps Unmask Melanoma

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Such cases are nerve-wracking for pathologists -- and especially for patients, says LeBoit. "They are told that the three biggest labs don't agree and all we can do is say that you may have potentially lethal disease or you might not. They have to live with this cloud over them. ... It's very difficult to plan your life with a diagnosis like that," he says.

Right now, the test is currently too sophisticated and time-consuming to be performed in labs across the country. "The problem is that right now it costs $1,000 in staff and materials and months of work to get results. Only two labs in the country can even do it," says LeBoit. Researchers are developing a simpler technique that will hopefully be available within the next two years.

Calling the research preliminary, Barbara McAlpine, MD, PhD, applauds the approach -- but with a cautionary note. McAlpine tells WebMD, "The approach they have taken is to try to identify melanoma at the point that it's under the microscope." She notes that the real window of opportunity is recognizing a mole is dangerous when examining the patient while they're in the doctor's office. McAlpine is a molecular biologist, associate professor of dermatology, and director of the Melanoma and Pigmented Lesions Center at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Vital Information:

  • Pathologists -- doctors who test samples of body tissue for signs of disease -- may one day have a new test that helps them distinguish potentially deadly skin cancer called melanoma from tissue that only looks cancerous.
  • Developers say the test, called comparative genomic hybridization, could be most helpful in the toughest cases where even the most experienced pathologists can't determine if a tissue sample is cancerous.
  • Proponents say today's version of the test is too involved, takes too long, and costs too much to perform on a large scale. They add that in the next two years, the test can be simplified so it could be more widely available.

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