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Blood test to monitor effectiveness of cancer treatments

Researchers develop blood test that provides ‘running commentary’ of tumour changes

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Researchers have developed a blood test that could help identity the most suitable therapy for a cancer patient, but most importantly track whether the treatment is still suitable, according to paper* published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Currently treatments are selected based on tumour samples taken at biopsy, but it is only evident that the cancer has evolved or becomes resistant to a treatment when symptoms reappear.

Regular use of the new blood test would allow a “running commentary” of what is happening to tumours so that clinicians know how well the treatment is working, how the cancer is changing and whether it is becoming resistant to treatment, the researchers say.

The blood test, developed by scientists funded by Cancer Research UK, has been tested in clinical trials of targeted drugs, proving that the technique can monitor cancer simply and quickly.

Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden in London, looked at almost 160 blood samples from 39 cancer patients with different types of late-stage cancer.

The test filters out tumour DNA from a patient’s blood to be analysed for genetic faults, enabling the researchers to match the faults to targeted cancer treatments which then home in on cancer cells carrying these mistakes.

Study leader Professor Johann de Bono, from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden, said: “Tumours and the gene faults that drive them are unique and constantly evolving. It’s crucial that we understand these changes so doctors can choose the best treatments for each patient.

“We need to do more research, but this approach could have a huge impact on how we make treatment decisions, also potentially making diagnosis and treatment quicker, cheaper and less invasive.”

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, said: “Blood tests like these are the future of cancer treatment and this study proves that they can work in practice – helping us to diagnose, analyse and monitor tumours more easily.

“Thanks to research like this we’re developing new ways to shake the genetic foundations that underpin cancer and save more lives.”

* Frenel J S, et al. Serial Next-Generation Sequencing of Circulating Cell-Free DNA Evaluating Tumor Clone Response To Molecularly Targeted Drug Administration. Clinical Cancer Research, published OnlineFirst June 17, 2015. DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-15-0584

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