Will doctors soon do blood tests to assess the effectiveness of cancer treatments or to detect tumors early? Scientists are exploring all possibilities in this field, which will surely become proven methods in the future.
Dozens of studies are underway to demonstrate the usefulness of using a new tool, the “liquid biopsy”, to monitor patients’ progress in cancer treatment.
A liquid biopsy is a blood test that looks for DNA fragments from tumor or cancer cells in a patient’s blood.
This technique has enormous benefits, and many observers believe that its discovery deserves a Nobel Prize in medicine, especially since it is much less invasive than the “traditional” biopsy, which takes a sample of cells from the body.
This technique, in particular, includes very precise information about the type of cancer that the patient has, and the expert in the field, Alain Thierry, Director of Research at the Institute for Research in Cancer Sciences in Montpellier, in the south of France, explained that “Doing a DNA sample rotation aims to monitor the transformation of some cancers, thus tailoring the treatment for you.”
In some types of cancer, such as lung cancer, where it is difficult to reach the tumor, this technology represents a real breakthrough.
Testing patients’ blood will soon also make it possible to monitor how cancers are responding to treatment. “In practice, after surgical removal of a tumor, we often prescribe chemotherapy when we don’t know if the patient really needs it,” said Thierry.
A blood test will allow, in many cases, to prescribe a less severe or shorter treatment for the patient in the future, but also to control possible new infections.
Liquid biopsy still has other possibilities, although they are not yet clear. “There is an incredible opportunity to detect cancer early,” said Alain Thierry.
Many teams and biotechnology companies around the world are working on this possibility, and the goal is to detect a cancerous tumor in a person through a blood sample before symptoms appear or before they can be detected on an X-ray.
“Technologically, it’s much more difficult than tracking cancer, because it requires large-scale analysis of DNA mutations, but also of other markers,” said François-Clément Bidard, an oncologist at the Curie Institute in Paris. Head of the Circulating Cancer Biomarkers Laboratory Specifically, we don’t know in advance what we’re looking for.
A recent study carried out by the American biotechnology company “Grail” produced remarkable results, as blood tests during the experiments allowed detecting cases of cancer in people over fifty years old and apparently in good health. More than 6,600 people were tested and the results showed suspected cancer in 92. In the end, 35 people developed confirmed cancer during the year, meaning that 57 people were wrongly found to have cancer.
However, the experiment allowed nine cases of cancer to be detected that would not be detected by traditional methods of early detection.
However, results remain highly mixed, and it will likely be years before the reliability of these tests, which are now marketed in the US, is established.
François Clement Bidard cautioned that even if proven reliable, these tests would still raise some questions.
“One of the problems is cost, because this type of DNA sequencing is very, very expensive,” he explained. “Another problem is the potential for ‘overdiagnosis’ of these tests, as many types of cancer are detected. In reality, they are very slow and underdeveloped.” He definitely needs treatment.
Scientists must also demonstrate that these tests represent a tangible improvement over currently accepted methods.
“Despite everything, today we have an advanced cancer screening strategy,” said Professor Fabrice Parlesi, director general of the Gustave Ross Cancer Control Center in the Paris region, but “the participation rate in the best cases does not exceed 40% . ” In these screening tests offered by health insurance.
He did not rule out, however, that these analyzes could be obtained in the future as a “complementary” method through the examination of a blood sample.
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