Cancer biopsy testing can be very stressful. Not only can it be an inconvenient and uncomfortable procedure, but it can be agonizing to wait for the results. If the results are positive and a malignancy is present, then precious time may have been lost to the delay in getting the cancer biopsy testing results.
Now a newly developed noninvasive procedure offers the potential to replace traditional cancer biopsy testing. A simple new blood test may offer a much faster way to diagnose whether cancer is present. If approved for routine medical use, it could greatly reduce stress, discomfort and medical testing costs as well as the time between testing and diagnosis, according to published medical news reports.
According to the researchers, patients would have the results “within days.”
Cancer Biopsy Testing Alternative Tested in Lung Cancer
The new blood test accurately diagnosed almost 70% of lung cancer cases, according to the presented data. This exciting new alternative to cancer biopsy testing was developed by a team of researchers from the UK who specialize in lung cancer. This makes the preliminary findings on this new diagnostic tool of particular relevance to mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure that often affects the lungs.
The researchers’ findings were presented recently at the annual World Conference on Lung Cancer in Colorado. Eric Lim, a thoracic surgeon at Royal Brompton & Harefield National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust, the lead researcher, gave the report.
Their study, conducted at the Royal Brompton Hospital and the UK’s National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), at Imperial College London, tested 223 patients with known or suspected primary or secondary lung cancer who were about to undergo surgery. The researchers were not told whether the cancer was confirmed or not.
In nearly 70% of cases, the blood test was accurate in diagnosing the presence of cancer cells in the lung cancer patients studied.
New Test Faster and Cheaper Than Cancer Biopsy Testing
Cancer biopsy testing until now has been the most reliable way to establish the presence of cancerous cells. But besides being invasive and requiring a long wait time for results, it can be very costly.
The new groundbreaking blood test would not only offer a quick, nonintrusive alternative, it would cost hundreds rather than thousands of dollars per patient, according to the researchers.
A study presented at a thoracic oncology symposium last year showed that a biopsy costs on average $14,634 per patient. In a random survey of 8,979 Medicare patients aged 65-74, between July 2009 and December 2010, 43.1% had negative biopsies, costing $16.5 million. In addition, almost 20% of patients undergoing lung biopsy suffered complications because of the procedure.
The new diagnostic blood test could possibly change that.
Potential Cancer Biopsy Testing Replacement Finds Gene Mutations
The potential replacement for cancer biopsy testing works by decoding DNA in cancer cells. When cells die, including cancer cells, they release DNA into the bloodstream. The new blood test can detect gene mutations in the blood that indicate the presence of cancer. Although these gene mutations are specific to cancer they can have slight variations depending on the type of cancer. Lung and colorectal cancer have similar gene patterns, so the researchers expect similar versions of the new blood test will be useful for diagnosing both types.
Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Dr. Lim said, “We hope this study will be a real game changer that could ultimately lead to many more lives being saved through earlier diagnosis and treatment for all types of cancer.”
Although the test is not seen as an alternative to cancer biopsy testing for every cancer patient, for patients for whom it would be useful not having to wait for biopsy results could mean that they might move on to treatment sooner, increasing chances for survival.
Lim insists that conventional diagnostic methods should still be available, especially to confirm negative results, as the test does not entirely rule out the presence of cancer cells.
Although the researchers are excited about the potential for the blood test to be used in a clinical setting, they acknowledge that further research is needed by other scientists to validate their findings.
Cancer Biopsy Testing One of Several Mesothelioma Diagnostic Tools
Cancer biopsy testing is considered the “gold standard” for cancer diagnosis. But various diagnostic methods for detecting cancer currently exist. The decision as to which testing procedures should be used depends on factors such as the type of cancer that is suspected, the health condition of the patient and the preferences of the oncologist. For mesothelioma, a cancer in the cells lining internal organs, most often the lungs, existing methods for cancer screening may include:
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI is a diagnostic tool that uses magnetic fields to create precise digital images of organs and tissues. This test is typically prescribed in patients with suspected tumors in the abdomen and chest.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
Also known as CAT scan, this type of testing is used not only to identify the presence of tumors, but also to determine the stage the cancer has reached and whether it has spread. This test is also used to check the results of cancer treatments.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
A PET scan is a diagnostic imaging test that uses radioactive agents to identify tumors and determine the stage of cancer and evaluate how well treatments are working.
Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to see images of internal organs. Because tumors create echoes and healthy tissue does not, sound waves sent to the tumors will bounce back to the computer screen as a tumor image that will be visible.