According to experts in the field, within the next two years doctors will begin routinely monitoring cancer using a new technique that looks for a genetic signature in a blood sample.
Liquid biopsies, the revolutionary new method, hold promise of detecting the reappearance of cancer much earlier and more accurately than the traditional methods. As the technique is perfected, it could also be a less invasive way to diagnose disease than a tissue biopsy.
Liquid biopsies offer doctors a better way to detect when a patient’s cancer has spread to areas that are more difficult to access for tissue biopsies.
Researchers believe that this development has the potential to transform the way that cancer is viewed and treated.
Although some of the earlier liquid biopsy studies were geared towards breast and prostate cancer, this technology is believed to have a great impact on all tumor types.
So far results in lung, prostate and colon cancer indicate that the circulating DNA could be an effective test for early detection and for predicting the outcome of treatments.
Researchers hope that this new method will translate into longer survival rates for a number of cancers although they caution that more research needs to be done to prove this.
Liquid biopsies take advantage of the fact that as cells die they release DNA into the bloodstream. The DNA of a tumor cell is noticeably different from normal DNA. This method varies from the traditional PSA method of detecting prostate cancer and is significantly better at distinguishing between patient with prostate cancer and healthy patients.
For prostate cancer, doctors measure prostate-specific antigen, a protein which is a surrogate for the volume of cancer. However, as cancer devolves they stop making PSAs and a majority of cancers don’t have an equivalent of PSA to detect or track cancer.
The most important thing in cancer is early diagnosis. If liquid biopsies can be properly developed, it would be a very powerful technology.