Researchers from the U.K.’s Manchester University have discovered that a blood sample from a patient with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) can predict the individual’s response to treatment. The discovery of this so-called “liquid biopsy” provides a way to test new treatments in the lab and to figure out how a tumor becomes resistant to specific medications.
The results represent one stop toward personalized medicine for these patients, according to ScienceDaily. Findings appeared in the journal Nature Medicine.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 224,210 new U.S. cases of lung and bronchial tube cancer in 2014. The agency predicts 159,260 deaths that year from these types of malignancies. The five-year survival rate for the years 2004 through 2010 was just 16.8 percent.
The two primary kinds of lung cancer are small cell and non-small cell. Between 10 and 15 percent of all lung cancers are SCLC, according to the American Cancer Society. This form of malignancy takes its name from the size of the cells a pathologist examines microscopically.
SCLC frequently starts in a bronchial tube, then grows and spreads rapidly. By the time healthcare providers make a diagnosis, it has nearly always metastasized to other areas of the body. Since survival rates are poor, experts have few samples to study and are continually looking for new ways to treat the disorder.
Manchester researchers examined the possibility of utilizing circulating tumor cells (CTCs) to analyze an individual’s disease in way that was minimally invasive. CTCs are cells that circulate in the blood after splitting from a tumor.
The U.K. study found that SCLC patients had considerably more CTCs in blood samples than those present in patients with other kinds of cancer. It identified a correlation between the number of CTCs present and patient longevity. The fewer the cells, the longer the patient survived.
Study leader Professor Caroline Dive noted that the liquid biopsy technique is a major step in solving the problem of getting access to sufficient tissue to analyze. She added that the test is easily repeated and gives researchers an opportunity to look at the genetics of tumors on a patient-by-patient basis. It also proves a practical way to monitor how a patient would respond to a particular treatment, allowing healthcare professionals to develop individualized therapies.
The researchers also successfully used CTCs to grow mice tumor models. They treated the mice with the same chemotherapy medications as those administered to SCLC patients. The rodents responded to the therapy in the same way as the patient who donated the CTCs. Use of these models could help scientists figure out why so many patients with SCLC become resistant to chemotherapy.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.