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Blood Work Might be Able to Track Progress of Cancer Treatment

Update Date: Mar 18, 2013 10:36 AM EDT
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A new study revealed that blood tests might be able to help monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatments in patients. The study done by researchers from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge in Britain found evidence that blood work can help doctors evaluate fragments of DNA from shedding dying tumor cells. Although the research is new, if these blood tests can be effective in monitoring cancer, they will make specific cancer treatments and options more effective for each particular patient.

The researchers looked at 30 women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The original sample group was 52, however, only the 30 women used in the study had traceable cancer cells. The research team found that these 30 women had tumor DNA changes that would allow for the tracking of two vital mutations in genes. The researchers used CT scans to track three sets of the biomarker and found that they could track the progress of the cancer treatment on the cancer cells by analyzing the circulating tumor DNA. Of the 30 women, 29 of them had detectable tumor DNA. Researchers found circulating tumor cells in 26 of the 30 women and CA 15-3, which is a cancer antigen, in 21 of 27 patients. These results inform doctors of the progression of the cancer and whether or not treatments have helped. By being able to follow the cancer through different stages, doctors and researchers can find the best options for the patient at different times of the cancer.

"By understanding the point at which a cancer changed we can select the most effective treatments and minimize side effects for patients," professor Carlos Caldas, co-author and senior group leader at the cancer research institute stated. "We can use blood samples to track how breast cancer is progressing as fragments of DNA are shed by cancer cells when they die, meaning they can be detected in blood samples using sensitive new sequencing techniques. The levels of tumor DNA are telling us how the cancer is responding to treatment."

However, the researchers stressed that more research still needs to be done. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine

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