liquid biopsy: What is liquid biopsy that can detect breast cancer & why it’s important for patients undergoing chemo?

The easiest and the earliest way of detecting breast tumors (or cancer) is a breast scan. However, following that initial step, mammography and biopsy are often painful for some women. But, now a new form of biopsy, called Liquid Biopsy for Breast Cancer Methylation (LBx-BCM), has been developed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. This test, which is currently a prototype for research purposes only, can accurately ascertain the presence of cancer DNA in the blood of patients with metastatic breast cancer within five hours.

The test can detect methylation – a type of chemical tag – in one or more of nine genes altered in breast cancers in 4.5 hours. Liquid biopsy only requires a 15-minute long to be conducted by a lab technician. The details of the test and its potential uses were published in Cancer Research Communications last month.

In an article published by News Medical, an open-access medical and life science hub, Saraswati Sukumar, Ph.D., professor of oncology and pathology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said that the goal of this ‘sophisticated and simple’ test is to give same-day feedback to clinicians and patients.

She further adds, “If we are able to show by this cartridge assay (test) that we are indeed successful in predicting the course of treatment, we might be able to institute changes in the way we look at chemotherapy and the way we treat patients for metastatic breast cancer.”

Many patients go through several cycles of chemotherapy before the doctors can perform imaging studies to determine if the treatment has worked. Furthermore, imaging can detect changes in larger tumors, but not so in smaller ones. Therefore, this test has a huge significance in cancer detection.

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A liquid biopsy is a non-invasive alternative to surgical biopsies which allows doctors to discern several information about tumour through a simple blood sample. They test the traces of the cancer’s DNA in the blood for better insight in the course of treatment.

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