FRIDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- It's possible that a blood test could be used to predict the risk of cancer spreading, or metastasizing, in people who have melanoma skin cancer, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Yale University tested the blood of 108 people with metastatic melanoma and 108 people with stage 1 or 2 melanoma and found that those with metastatic disease had higher levels of several biomarkers.

Though 83 percent of people with metastatic cancer had elevations of at least one of the markers, there were no elevations in 76 percent of those with early-stage cancer, the investigators found.

The study findings are reported in the April 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

"This finding will need to be confirmed prospectively before it is used in the clinic, but it shows that such testing is possible," Dr. Harriet Kruger, an associate professor of medicine at Yale, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research.

Being able to use a blood test to predict the risk of metastasis in people with melanoma would be cheaper than the current method of monitoring, which includes periodic imaging tests, physical examinations and blood tests, the researchers said.

Dr. Iman Osman, director of the interdisciplinary melanoma program at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, described the idea of a blood test for metastatic melanoma as "important and clinically relevant."

"The data are interesting; however, there are several questions that remain to be answered," Osman said. "Can the panel of markers predict recurrence at the time of diagnosis, and [is] the combination of markers . . . better than the standard of care?"

According to the association, 68,130 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, and 8,700 died of the disease. Most deaths from melanoma are the result of metastasis. The risk of metastasis ranges from less than 10 percent for patients with stage 1A melanoma to as high as 70 percent for those with stage 3C.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about melanoma.