Most people are aware of the fact that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. Are blood tests revolutionizing cancer treatment methods?

CBS news reports on cancer care.

Researchers are saying that the best new way to prevent cancer is by getting a new type of blood test.

Why is this test different?

How does it work?

These tests are being called liquid biopsies.

They capture cancer cells or DNA that tumors shed into the blood, rather than taking tissue from the tumor itself. Many hope that the test will help people bypass the pain of biopsies and surgical needles.

“They give the first noninvasive way to repeatedly sample a cancer so doctors can profile its genes, target drugs to mutations, tell quickly whether treatment is working, and adjust it as the cancer evolves,” according to CBS news.

Many doctors are actually already using the tests in routine care.

One patient told CBS about his experience with the blood test. He said that he had colon cancer that spread to his lungs and he never would have known about it if it were not for the blood test as it is difficult to take a lung biopsy. Many patients with metastatic colon cancers now get liquid biopsies.

Liquid biopsies can also detect breast cancer sooner (which is one of the leading causes of death in American women). One patient whose breast cancer was detected by a liquid biopsy told CBS,

“Had this test not been available, we may not have known I had cancer on my spine until symptoms showed up, which may have been too late for good treatment.” The best part was that the test helped detect the cancer months before a biopsy would have.

The way this testing can revolutionize cancer treatment is clear.

However there is a problem - there are no big, clear cut studies to show they help patients, how precise they are, which type is best or who should get them and when.

Despite that issue, patients do better when drugs are matched to their tumors, and liquid biopsies may give a practical way to do that more often. Liquid biopsies are considered to be part of a better and more personalized treatment creation plan.

Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, a University of California, San Diego cancer specialist commented on the new testing. He expressed his excitement and said,

“I spent most of my life giving drugs that were useless to people because there was no good way to tell who would benefit or quickly tell when one wasn't working. This is so much better.”

Which people are already getting tested by way of these blood tests?

Dr. Kopetz, who works at MD Anderson, told CBS that these tests are generally used when a tissue biopsy can not easily be done, when the cancer's original site is not known, or when drugs have stopped working and doctors are unsure what to try next for the patient. At Thomas Jefferson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, specialists have successfully used the tests on 120 women (many of which had a high risk of cancer recurrence) and plan to continue.


Gerry Oginski
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