New blood test to help treat cancer

December 22, 2008 3:27:58 PM PST
More than half of those diagnosed with cancer will undergo chemotherapy. For some, it works. But for others, it doesn't. It can take months to find out which group you may be in. Now, a simple blood test can give patients and doctors the answer.

You would never know that just a few hours before she was making brownies with her kids, Ivelisse Page was told her stage-three colon cancer returned.

"Now, the CT scan shows there's something on my liver," she said.

Page was diagnosed in the early fall. She had the tumor and 15 inches of her colon removed.

"It seems like at every point, my husband and I have gotten the rug slipped from under us," she said.

A new personalized blood test may be able to help Ivelisse decide her next plan of attack.

"It can tell you how much tumor you have, if you're responding to therapy or surgery or radiation," said Dr. Luis Diaz, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

As cancers grow, they shed fragments of DNA, laced with mutated genes, into the bloodstream. Researchers at Johns Hopkins developed a test to measure those mutated genes. In a study of 18 patients, the blood test not only identified cancer in all of them, but also measured the level of cancer.

"Right now, when you get a biomarker test or even a CT scan, that might give you a hint of how much tumor you have," Dr. Diaz said. "But it's not going to tell you exactly how much tumor you have that you can or can't see."

The test may also help predict who will get cancer.

"Ultimately, what we would ultimately like to do is to give this test to everyone in the country and tell them, you know, we're concerned you have a cancer because the causative mutation that causes cancer is found in your blood," Dr. Diaz said.

Ivelisse hopes this test will help people like her make the right decision for themselves and their families.

"None of us are guaranteed tomorrow," she said. "What we are guaranteed is today and making the most of it with our family and our loved ones."

Dr. Diaz says the test could be applied to any cancer that is linked to a known gene mutation, including breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers.


STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg


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