‘Simple blood test’ could give us an early warning system for cancer

| | February 14, 2020
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Image: Northwestern
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As of 2020, there are now targeted therapy drugs for 30 kinds of cancer.

As part of this whirlwind of innovation, more cancer centers are setting up genetic sequencing labs, and more oncologists are advising patients to get their tumor tissue genetically sequenced. Yet scientists are also hoping to learn the deeper secrets of cancer from our blood, which they believe offers more comprehensive information about the complexity of a patient’s cancer.

In addition to identifying patients’ genetic mutations to select treatment, oncologists are looking in their blood post-surgery to see if all the cancer was removed during an operation. “Traditionally, we have no reliable way of knowing if the surgery got it all,” [Broad Institute’s Viktor] Adalsteinsson says.

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The new technology aims to identify a returning cancer’s DNA presence long before a new tumor grows big enough to be seen again on a conventional scan and when treatment is likely to be more effective.

But the biggest advance the field has been waiting for is the ability to detect cancer in the very early stages. If the technology can be developed, a blood test could be part of annual physical exams to tell us when cancer cells first appear in the body, when it’s most treatable.

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