Detecting Early-stage Cancer Now A Distinct Possibility
One of the problematic features of cancer is its stealthy approach. By the time most cancers are detected, they have already established themselves in the body. When symptoms of cancer appear it becomes a race to manage the malignancy before it spreads to nearby tissues or distant organs. When a cancer spreads to distant organs (a process known as metastasis), it becomes increasingly difficult to manage and treat. This is borne out by the statistics: 90% of cancer-related deaths are as a result of metastatic cancer. It would therefore be a significant development in cancer management if an ‘early warning system’ could be developed to detect cancer in its initial stages.
Detecting Early-stage Cancer
Through diligent research the world is now closer to detecting tumours even before they form. Medical oncologist Pedram Razavi recently presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) the results of a study which suggest that this is a distinct possibility. The practical application of this test would make the detection of cancer cells before they become entrenched in the body a critical first line of defence in battling cancer.
A blood assay is used to measure circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA). The assay is able to identify genetic mutations that indicate the presence of cancer in the body. CtDNA blood tests have been attempted before but with indifferent results. This is the first time, however, that a high-intensity ctDNA sequencing assay has been sensitive enough to produce such comprehensive results. Pedram Razavi who works at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre says that an early-stage cancer test may eventually need no more than a pinprick.
Promising Cancer Study
The study involved 124 participants with metastatic Breast Cancer, non-small cell Lung Cancer and Prostate Cancer. By filtering out non-cancer related mutations (for example those originating from bone-marrow cells) and inherited variations in the DNA, the research team were able to identify tumour-specific mutations that indicated the presence of cancer in the body. All the patients involved in the study had advanced cancer. The challenge remains now to successfully apply the assay to patients with early-stage cancer, which is where it is most needed.
In its crudest form, cancer detection has usually been reduced to the assessment of symptoms related to the particular malignancy under scrutiny. More advanced tests have relied on Complete Blood Count (CBC) which is used to detect blood cancers by determining (among other parameters) the presence of abnormal cells in comparison to normal ones. Other cancer detection tests include the Computed Tomography (CT) Scan (sometimes called a CAT scan) that is used to detect tumours, establish the stage of the disease and to determine whether the cancer has spread. The discovery and application of a test that would detect cancer cells before the actual formation of tumours would therefore represent a significant advance from the methods now in use.
Progress in cancer-testing goes hand-in-hand with progress in cancer treatment. Where cancer management used to rely on full-dose Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy and Surgery, newer, less invasive, scientifically-proven methods have come to the fore. Integrative Cancer Treatments combine the best and most useful in conventional cancer care with holistic therapies that help maintain the body’s overall equilibrium while it fights the cancer.
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