New cancer blood test could revolutionize diagnosis and treatment

healthy blood cells

A new cancer blood test currently being studied could replace invasive biopsies and promote more effective cancer treatments. Image: MdougM via Wikimedia Commons

A new cancer blood test sensitive enough to detect a single cancer cell is being prepared for the health care marketplace. The new cancer blood test could make early detection of cancer easier. The blood test could also help accurately determine whether cancer treatments are working and show whether patients become cancer-free.

A breakthrough in cancer treatment

A new cancer blood test is being developed by medical researchers at Harvard University and Johnson & Johnson scientists. Instead of invasive biopsies and uncomfortable mammograms or colonoscopies, drawing a single teaspoon of blood could produce more reliable results. The cancer blood test is designed to detect circulating tumor cells (CTCs), cancer cells that separate from a tumor and migrate to other organs via the bloodstream. Medical researchers speculate that CTCs are the agent that allows cancer to spread. Based on the number of CTCs detected, the test could reveal how well-off the patient is.

How the cancer blood test works

The cancer blood test involves a microchip the size of a business card covered with 78,000 tiny posts. The posts are coated with antibodies that draw cancer cells from the blood sample. Healthy blood cells bounce off the posts while the cancer cells stick to them. A dye is added that makes the cancer cells stuck to the posts glow, which allows them to be counted and analyzed. Researchers said that the new cancer blood test is so sensitive that a single cancer cell can be set apart from millions of cells contained in a blood sample. In addition to counting the cancer cells, it’s possible that a gene analysis of the cell could provide data leading to the most effective cancer treatments.

Clinical use in three-to-five years

Researchers said patients with prostate, bladder, colon, kidney and lung cancer could benefit most from the new cancer blood test. Johnson & Johnson has invested $30 million in the process, which unfolds much like the development of new drugs that are submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval. The procedure may be available for clinical use in three to five years.


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