Published on 31/05/2012
A simple blood test could replace repeat biopsies in cancer patients, according to scientists.
Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute have developed a blood test that allows doctors to track genetic changes in tumour cells once cancer treatment has begun.
The test identifies fragments of DNA shed into the bloodstream by cancer cells as they die.
Scientists have already used it to detect genetic faults involved in tumour growth in 20 out of 38 tests on women with a particular type of ovarian cancer.
They were also able to build a ‘real time’ picture of how one woman’s breast cancer responded to treatment for over more than a year.
The cheap blood test could replace the need for surgically removing tissue samples for analysis. Tumour biopsies only provide a limited snapshot of the genetic mutations present in cancer, and once the disease has spread it is difficult to take samples from secondary tumour sites.
Since DNA is shed from all tumours into the bloodstream as treatment kills cancer cells, the blood test provides a much bigger picture of the cancer’s process.
Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, experts say that the new method could be used following an initial biopsy to track changes in a patient’s condition. Study leader Dr Nitzan Rosenfield, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute, said:
"This type of blood test has the potential to revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat cancer. The great advantage is that it can be used to identify cancer mutations without surgery or a biopsy, making it safer and cheaper."
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