By Adrian Galbreth
A new test could offer hope to the thousands of people around the world who are living with eye tumours, and help to improve the way in which they are treated.
According to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, the genetic test can accurately predict whether the most common form of eye cancer will spread to other parts of the body, particularly the liver.
Specialists led by principal investigator Dr J William Harbour trialled the new technique on 459 patients with ocular melanoma at 12 centres in the US and Canada, and found that the test could successfully classify tumours in more than 97 per cent of cases.
Dr Harbour explained that, when the cancer spreads beyond the eye, it is unlikely that any therapy is going to be effective, but it is "very possible" that experts can develop treatments to slow the growth of metastatic tumours.
"The real importance of this test is that by identifying the type of tumour a patient has, we can first remove the tumour 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," he added.
According to the expert, the test should allow ocular oncologists to quickly evaluate the risks associated with particular tumours and to begin treatment the moment they can detect any spread of the cancer.
The 15-gene expression profile test is more accurate than previous tests, Dr Harbour explains, as it takes a more complete "snapshot" of the entire tumour.
The results of the chromosome test can also change, depending on which part of a tumour gets sampled.
"I compare it to how our brains recognise faces. We don't just focus on somebody's nose, we take in all of the information from the entire face," he explained.
"This test takes information from the entire tumour, so if the 'nose' in the 'picture' is out of focus for some reason, it still can analyse other things."
The specialists hope that the results will lead to more cancerous tumours being identified and treated early, which will both prolong and save lives.
by Emily Tait