Imagine if finding out if you have cancer was as simple as drawing a vial of blood. I’m not talking about after you’ve had symptoms, or have an inkling that something’s just not right. I’m talking about months – maybe even years – before the cancer even presents itself.
Not only is it possible, but scientists in Massachusetts say such a test is one step closer to becoming a mainstream diagnostic tool.
It’s called a “liquid biopsy,” and pharmaceutical goliath Johnson & Johnson, as well as a group of Boston scientists, tells us a new blood test can spot one single cancer cell lurking in the midst of billions of healthy ones. That is extremely significant. Renegade cancer cells mean a cancerous tumor has either spread or is very likely to. A blood test that could seek and find these cells has the potential not only to save lives but to impact quality and effectiveness of care. A better screening device for several deadly cancers.
The hope is that this test will be a better screening device for breast cancer and colon cancer–even better than mammograms and colonoscopies.
Jame Abraham, medical director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center says, “It’s a huge step in early detection of cancer recurrence, monitoring and response from cancer treatments.”
No doubt many patients would much rather give a blood sample instead of going through another more painful or invasive type of test. Not only would it save anxiety-ridden and valuable time waiting on the results of these tests, but the screening could potentially save millions of lives.
Many times doctors perform a needle biopsy but the sampling is often poor. It can be difficult to determine from it what is controlling tumor growth. Then, after drug or radiation treatment a CT scan is performed a few months later to see if the tumor is shrinking. Unfortunately, some patients don’t live that long.
If this new blood test can gauge success sooner, patients will obviously have more treatment options.
According to Abraham the technology needs more development before it could go mainstream, but that could possibly happen within 3-5 years.
When this test hits the market early treatment could be a life-saving result. When a cancer is developing there are only a few cells that circulate within the blood. A typical blood sample has millions of other cells circulating in it and the new machine would be able to pick out the cancerous ones. So that kind of sensitivity not only means early detection, but being able to determine if a current treatment is effective or not.
Right now the FDA has approved the test for prostate, colorectal, and breast cancer. Both the test and the diagnostic machine are cost prohibitive but that should change within a few years. This state of the art technology could be an extremely powerful weapon in the war on cancer.