By Helen Ford, Health Correspondent
Scientists at Newcastle University say they have developed a pioneering test which could have a major impact on people diagnosed with a type of skin cancer.
An estimated 17,000 people are diagnosed every year in the UK with melanoma, which can be life threatening.
The North East researchers say their test - for patients with the earliest stages of the condition - can reliably predict whether their tumour is likely to spread to other parts of the body, or return after it is removed.
The scientists have tested tumour samples from hundreds of patients and say the key lies in the presence of two proteins in the epidermis - or uppermost layer of skin - close to the growth.
If the proteins remain, the team says the tumour can be considered low risk. An absence of proteins indicates a higher risk tumour.
The scientists say the test brings several benefits to people whose tumours have been removed.
ITV Tyne Tees presenter Pam Royle was diagnosed with a melanoma three years ago. Her tumour was successfully removed. During her treatment, Pam took part in the Newcastle University research.
According to the NHS, melanomas are thought to be triggered by the sun's ultraviolet light though it says some may be caused by exposure to sun beds. Read more about melanoma and what to look out for here
So far the Newcastle team have studied hundreds of tumour samples and say the test is proving extremely reliable. Even so, more results are needed before it can be made widely available and the researchers are looking at samples from Spain, Australia and the United States.
While the team is stressing the potential benefits to patients, they also say the test could save money for the NHS, with low risk patients requiring fewer follow-up appointments after their melanoma is removed.
The scientists hope to acquire the necessary approvals, so the test can be available to patients within a couple of years.