A new "liquid biopsy" technique is showing promise in detecting certain types of cancer, reports Gina Kolata for The New York Times.
This method requires simply drawing blood from a patient to find small traces of cancer DNA, whereas traditional biopsies involve the arduous process of cutting out a piece of the tumor to examine it.
The possibilities of this test could "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," according to the Times.
Outcomes from early experimentations have so far been positive.
Scientists from the National Cancer Institute conducted a study of 126 patients with B-cell lymphoma where they pinpointed which subjects were most at risk for recurrence of the disease as well as identified the patients who would not respond well to treatment.
The American Association for Cancer Research recently analyzed blood samples from 77 patients afflicted with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) to forecast treatment outcome with an ALK inhibitor called crizotinib. The team found that when a platelet arrangement called EML4-ALK appears before treatment with crizotinib and doesn't disappear as the therapy continues, it means the individual won't respond well to the drug and other alternatives need to be implemented.
Although the Times' report indicates many members of the medical community are interested in the progress of the product, more work still needs to be done to assess the efficacy of the procedure.
Kolata explains searching for those snippets of cancer DNA among a gargantuan sea of molecules can be tricky because the body can metabolize them in a number of hours.
Also, some physicians are concerned about the implications of finding these cancer-containing particles.
Dr. Peter Gibbs from the Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute told Kolata, "If you find DNA and tell the patients there is a very high risk of risk of recurrence, that creates a lot of anxiety."
By contrast, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center oncologist Dr. David Hyman spoke of the simplicity of the blood test to Kolata and said, "I cannot do a weekly livery biopsy and see how things are going" adding "But I can do a blood test every week."