Boston scientists are attempting to use blood samples to personalize breast cancer treatment for women with rare forms of the disease. After filtering tumor cells from patient blood samples, researchers have been studying how the cells grow and begun to experiment with possible solutions for halting cell growth. The new technique has the potential to allow “real time monitoring” of tumor changes and usher in a new era of individually designed cancer treatments.
“Tumors change, and from the time that a woman is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that needs to be treated to the time that multiple treatments have worked and stop working, the tumors have evolved,” Dr. Daniel Haber of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center recently told the Boston Globe.
Real Time Monitoring
The new technique would allow oncologists to monitor tumor development and treatment resistance in real time and make treatment adjustments more quickly, hopefully preventing the spread of cancer and hastening the administration of more effective targeted therapies. The ability to track such changes through blood tests could also spare breast cancer patients the trauma of multiple invasive biopsies.
When Cancer Cells Circulate
The circulation of cancer cells in the blood stream is considered a strong indicator that cancer is spreading beyond the original tumor site. Cancer cell circulation is also believed to be a primary mechanism for metastasis. The ability to track the real time emergence of cancer cell mutations through blood samples is still a work in progress. While intriguing, researchers were only able to culture cancer cells in one-sixth of the blood samples.