A bloody good method for detecting cancer

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For early-stage breast cancer patients, a simple blood test may one day lead to better diagnosis, prognostic capabilities, and targeted treatment. According to a recent study published in The Lancet Oncology, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) detected in the patient s blood accurately predicted both progression-free and overall survival in a group of early-stage breast cancer patients.

For the study, researchers from the University of Texas took blood samples from 302 breast cancer patients with localized, operable disease who had not received preoperative chemotherapy. Twenty-four percent of participants tested positive for CTCs, and, of these, over a five year period, 15 percent relapsed while 10 percent died. That was compared to just 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of patients who did not have CTCs in their blood. Furthermore, as the concentration of blood CTCs increased, so too did the risk of relapse or death.

According to the authors, these results build on a body of evidence suggesting that CTCs may also be used as a potential biomarker in the future to more accurately characterize the likelihood of early-stage breast cancer metastasis or relapse. If the presence of CTCs were to contribute independently to the currently available prognostic factors, this information might be useful in disease staging and in identifying patients who might benefit from additional adjuvant therapies, said lead author Dr. Anthony Lucci.

Indeed, if these data are upheld by larger studies, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross believes that CTC blood testing could certainly become a routine part of breast cancer evaluation, while also helping oncologists better manage which patients might benefit from more aggressive treatments.

This is very exciting says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. If this method proves to be a reliable tool for detecting metastatic breast cancer, I don t see why it couldn t be used for other types of cancer as well. This technology could have the potential to become a primary cancer screening tool in the future one that could be a substantial improvement over current detection methods.