Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide, second only to prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Putting this into perspective, lung cancer accounts for 14% of all new cancer cases.

It is also the leading cause of cancer-related mortalities, causing more deaths each year than of colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Of those diagnosed with lung cancer, only 5% have a survival rate of more than 10 years with approximately one-third passing away within the first year of diagnosis.

Nevertheless, lung cancer remains to be a largely preventable infliction with up to 89% being preventable. Fortunately, recent advancements in genetic analysis have allowed a cancer research team in the UK to discover a novel blood test for detecting the early recurrence of lung cancer.

Blood tests for early detection of relapse

Christoper Abbosh from the University College London Cancer Institute, together with a team of researchers in the UK, detailed the discovery of a new blood test able to detect the early stages of lung cancer relapse. The study was first published last month.

Using a tumour-specific phylogenetic approach to ctDNA profiling, the blood test was able to effectively detect traces of tumour (lung cancer) evolution. By analysing the DNA of resected tumour samples, researchers were able to create a genetic fingerprint unique to each to each patient.

This genetic fingerprint is then screened every three months in post-surgical patients to detect even minute traces of the patient’s cancer cells. The team estimates that the detection threshold for recurring tumours need only be 0.3 cubic millimetres in order to be detected in the blood tests.

Current and future implications

The current implications are fairly straightforward, with earlier detection equating to earlier treatment. This subsequently leads to better prognosis and survival rates. More than just a screening tool, the blood test can also serve as a monitor for patients who are still currently undergoing therapy.

Ineffective or unsuitable therapies need to be identified early. This allows clinicians to tailor each patient’s therapeutic options. More than merely an early warning system, this test is able to improve understanding of lung cancer and its response to various therapeutic options on a case-by-case basis.

While the current implications are ground breaking, it is the future possibilities of this study that are the most exciting. With most cancers working similarly on the fundamental level, there is hope for this test to be adapted towards detecting other types of cancer.

Meanwhile, from a research standpoint, researchers will be able to better study the evolution of tumour cells through its pattern of relapse and metastases. It is with hope that this newfound data can provide a new approach towards developing new therapeutic options for cancer.

Genetic studies and molecular medicine have always been considered the cusp of medical research. However, much of its confines have been largely limited to the field of experimental research and limited case trials.

With the release of this data, there is now a promising future where genetic analysis is able to benefit patients from a clinical standpoint. By identifying a unique genetic fingerprint for cancer cells, clinicians will be able to detect cancer relapses even before clinical signs are present.

This presents a great deal of hope towards curing cancer. Moreover, this discovery opens a new path for research towards understanding cancer development and developing new therapeutic options. MIMS

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