Giving lung cancer patients better options

Despite advances made in recent years, lung cancer remains the most common cancer in the world, with approximately 1.8 million cases a year,1 and is responsible for the greatest number of cancer deaths - approximately 1.6 million a year1. The need for innovation in lung cancer therefore remains huge.

Like all cancers, lung cancer is a very cunning disease; it can change and mutate over time. One of the most important challenges for doctors treating lung cancer is finding out the specific mutations of an individual patient’s tumour to help identify if they would benefit from certain therapies.

The burden of surgical biopsies

Tumour biopsy is an essential procedure for patients with cancer, providing crucial information on diagnosis, prognosis and prediction of response or resistance to treatment.

But in lung cancer – where most patients are diagnosed at a late stage and are therefore often very ill – undergoing a surgical biopsy can be quite an ordeal.

In fact, lung cancer patients are sometimes too sick to undergo the procedure or simply do not have enough tissue taken from the tumour to conduct a genetic test.

A simple way to stay ahead of lung cancer

A liquid biopsy is a simple and non-invasive alternative to surgical biopsies which enables doctors to find out a whole range of information about a tumour through a simple blood sample. Traces of the cancer’s DNA in the blood can give clues about which treatments are most likely to work for that patient.  

A liquid biopsy test that is able to detect EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) gene mutations, which occur in 10-35% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)2, will help doctors to choose the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.

“Liquid biopsies could be a game-changer in cancer testing,” said Miro Venturi, Global Head Diagnostics Biomarkers.  “In terms of patient acceptability and disease management, the benefits of non-invasive, quick and easily repeatable tests are clear. And in the longer term, liquid biopsies may ultimately be used to catch signs of cancer early, before symptoms arise.  This could make a significant difference to the way we understand and treat cancer.”

Liquid biopsy: your questions answered

  1. Which cancers will it be used for?  Much of the early research has been in lung, breast and prostate cancers, but this technology is expected to have an impact on all types of cancer
  2. When will it be available?  Liquid biopsy tests are already approved and available in some countries and many more are in development; this is expected to be a major revolution in cancer testing   
  3. Are surgical biopsies now redundant? No – for now they are still the gold standard. It is still relatively early days for liquid biopsy and some questions still need to be answered – for example, to what extent test accuracy varies among tumour types and stages of disease

References
1. World Health Organization. GLOBOCAN 2012. Available online: http://globocan.iarc.fr/Pages/fact_sheets_cancer.aspx?cancer=lung 
2. My Cancer Genome. EGFR in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC).  Available online: http://www.mycancergenome.org/content/disease/lung-cancer/egfr/

Tags: Oncology, Diagnostics, Science