One of this year’s most significant medical advances involves detecting the progress of cancer through biomarkers in the blood. While solid tissue biopsies can pinpoint tumor size and activity within a specific area, noninvasive liquid biopsies can provide greater insight into the genetics of tumor cells taken from a blood sample.
Typically, cancerous tumors shed particles known as circulating cell-free tumor DNA (ctDNA) and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) which course through the bloodstream. Technology has progressed so quickly that it can now detect these tumor cells with greater accuracy whereas in the past, this simply wasn’t possible because their concentrations in the blood are so low.
Liquid biopsies currently have two applications: they can detect whether a current therapy needs to be modified due to tumor resistance and can also monitor how well treatments are working from week-to- week or month-to-month without any inconvenience to a patient. This is considered real-time data monitoring.
Consequently, liquid biopsies are considered more effective, safer and superior in some instances. In contrast, tissue biopsies are very invasive, can’t be repeated frequently, can be risky and painful while providing limited information.
A liquid biopsy is not restricted to blood samples—urine and saliva tests are now available.
Liquid biopsies also show promise in detecting metastatic cancers and early stage cancers. Research is currently underway at both the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the University of Melbourne to determine whether liquid biopsies can screen to predict the likelihood of recurrence of early stage colon cancer. If Liquid biopsies prove to be successful in predicting recurrence, they can alter when and how conventional treatments such as chemotherapy are administered. Read our previous article on breakthrough detection in early stage cancers to learn more.
In time, experts believe that liquid biopsy will be incorporated into standard clinical practice and when the next generation of liquid biopsy technology arrives, there is no doubt that it will continue to enhance cancer treatments and outcomes.
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