Are Cancer Drugs Working? ‘Liquid Biopsy’ May Tell

July 13, 2016   ·   0 Comments

But research is still in early stages, experts note

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Researchers have developed a blood test that might allow doctors to know quickly whether a cancer drug is working.

The technique is in the early stages of testing, and not ready for “prime time,” scientists said. But they were also hopeful that the research will help advance the use of so-called liquid biopsies in treating cancer.

Doctors have long used invasive biopsy procedures to get tumor samples, study them, then use the information to make treatment decisions or monitor a patient’s response to treatment.

But those procedures can be uncomfortable and carry some risks, like bleeding and infection, said Dr. Erica Mayer, a breast cancer expert with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Plus, she noted, some tumors are difficult to reach, and some patients are not healthy enough to have an invasive biopsy.

So there’s been “great interest,” Mayer said, in liquid biopsy technology — which allows doctors to detect and analyze tumor DNA in a blood sample.

“It’s much more favorable for patients because it doesn’t have the potential risks of traditional biopsies,” Mayer said. It’s also easier for doctors to take repeat blood samples over time.

There are already some liquid biopsy tests on the market. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first such test that can detect particular gene mutations that affect some lung cancer patients. If they carry the mutations — in a gene called EGFR — then they may benefit from the cancer drug Tarceva.

Also last month, a large study presented at ASCO’s annual meeting reported that liquid biopsies can be a reliable alternative to traditional biopsies when it comes to detecting mutations in patients’ cancer.

That study focused on finding tumor mutations that can be targeted with available drugs, said senior researcher Chwee Teck Lim.

“For our [test], we go one step further, to see how a patient’s cancer cells will actually respond to a given drug treatment,” explained Lim, a professor of biomedical engineering at National University of Singapore.

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