Doctors have begun using a revolutionary new technique to monitor cancer. Called “liquid biopsy,” the test is done on a sample of blood to look for cancer cells from a tumor circulating in the blood, or for pieces of DNA from tumor cells that are in the blood. The hope is that the test will also identify specific biomarkers that will detect tumors that will be impervious to potential therapies. Doctors also believe that the test will detect the reappearance of cancer much earlier and more accurately than other methods such as surgical biopsies and CT scans.
Because liquid biopsies are non-invasive, doctors can conduct the test faster and more frequently than other invasive tests. Per the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “being able to take multiple samples of blood over time may also help doctors understand what kind of molecular changes are taking place in a tumor.” The procedure has few, if any, side effects and costs are often lower than the costs for other types of cancer tests. Current side effects for surgical biopsies include infection, pain, bleeding, bruising, and tenderness around the surgical sight.
Though the liquid biopsy method is now being used at cancer centers around the world, research is still ongoing. One of the largest studies was conducted by NCI on more than 100 lymphoma patients. Results showed that the procedure was so accurate, it indicated cancer’s return a noteworthy three months earlier than a CT scan would have.
Dr. Sarat Chandarlapaty, physician-scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), has led a number of studies on the effectiveness of the procedure. “The studies provide a glimpse into how the liquid biopsy has emerged as a powerful diagnostic and treatment tool for people with cancer,” he says.
Per MSKCC, “Dr. Chandarlapaty emphasized the essential role this technique will play in guiding the development of new therapies.”
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National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NCI NIH). The National Institutes of Health (NIH), n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
Stallard, Jim. "Liquid Biopsy Shown to Be Effective in Assessing Response to Breast." MSKCC.org. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
"Surgical Biopsy." Cancer.ca. Canadian Cancer Society, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.