Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015 — Blood Test for Cancer?

This is huge.

Today’s New York Times tells of some research now under way that could lead to a simple blood test that could be used to diagnose cancer, particularly blood cancers like lymphoma (Gina Kolata, “Blood Test Shows Promise as Alternative to Cancer Biopsy,” New York Times, April 19, 2015)

From the article:

“The hope is that a simple blood draw — far less onerous for patients than a traditional biopsy or a CT scan — will enable oncologists to quickly figure out whether a treatment is working and, if it is, to continue monitoring the treatment in case the cancer develops resistance....

‘This could change forever the way we follow up not only response to treatments but also the emergence of resistance, and down the line could even be used for really early diagnosis,’ said Dr. José Baselga, physician in chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center....

A National Cancer Institute study published this month in The Lancet Oncology, involving 126 patients with the most common form of lymphoma, found the test predicted recurrences more than three months before they were noticeable on CT scans.”

The new test follows a novel approach: searching for tiny snippets of cancer DNA that the body sheds into the bloodstream. The DNA shards are tiny and short-lived (they last for only a few hours), but extremely sophisticated blood tests are evidently now able to pick out this particular needle-in-a-haystack.

Early signs are that the test may be more useful for follow-up with existing patients who are known to have had tumors than for first-time diagnoses. It doesn’t appear to be the sort of test that could successfully be given as a routine screening for healthy patients:

“Another possible application — early diagnosis of cancer — is trickier. If a blood test showed cancer DNA, what would that mean? Where is the tumor, and would it help to find and treat it early? Some cancers stop growing and even go away on their own. With others, the outcome is just as good if the cancer is found later.”

If this blood test is successfully developed for clinical use, it could greatly reduce the need for CT and PET scans in monitoring patients during and after treatment.

As I’ve said, this is huge (although, admittedly, still just a theory at this point). I’ll be watching for further news on this.

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