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Bits of Cancer, Floating in the Blood

To tell whether patients' tumors have returned after treatment, physicians rely on CT scans or additional biopsies, but a newer approach is offering a less invasive way to gauge recurrence, the New York Times' Gina Kolata reports.

Liquid biopsies in which clinicians have blood samples analyzed for snippets of tumor DNA could give physicians an earlier glimpse into treatment response, though the accuracy and reliability of the approach is still being scrutinized.

One study Kolata cites from Johns Hopkins' Bert Vogelstein and Jeanne Tie and Peter Gibbs from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research found that, in a set of 250 patients, 80 percent of the patients in whom circulating DNA was detected had recurrent tumors, while 6 percent to 8 percent of those in whom no circulating DNA was detected had recurrent tumors.

Tie and Gibbs are now studying a group of 450 patients randomly assigned to receive the standard of care or to undergo a liquid biopsy and, if tumor DNA is found, receive chemotherapy.

"This [approach] could change forever the way we follow up not only response to treatments but also the emergence of resistance, and down the line could even be used for really early diagnosis," José Baselga, the chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, tells Kolata.

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