Imagine if you could do away with biopsies, radioactive tests, and other invasive procedures and be able to detect cancer with just a simple blood examination. A test known as Liquid Biopsy test can now identify the tumor traces released in a cancer patient’s bloodstream through a simple DNA blood test. Since it is a simple blood test, it is being touted as a cost-effective method for the early detection and diagnosis of cancer. It is also useful to keep monitoring the disease for any signs of remission post-surgery or other treatments.
What is Liquid Biopsy Test?
Liquid biopsy is a non-invasive diagnostics procedure for profiling cancers. The technique aims to detect for cancer DNA in the blood sample of the patient. This further helps to sketch a roadmap for the treatment plan for the patient.
In the past, tumour biopsies have challenged both patients and doctors. Patients complained of inconvenience and discomfort while undergoing tissue biopsies.
Liquid Biopsy Is Beneficial?
- The technique has been a success for obtaining biopsies for diseases such as lung cancer (non-small cell lung cancer). As in the case of non-small cell lung cancer, obtaining a tissue biopsy is a challenge due to the condition of the patient and the location of the tumour. It is challenging to obtain a section of the tissue for the biomarker testing.
- Cost: liquid biopsies are a simple blood draw. Compared to tissue biopsies, it is cheaper. The reason for this is quite understandable. The former involves drawing of blood whereas, in the latter, tissue resection needs to be performed.
- Liquid Biopsy serves as a continuous and progressive way to check the status of cancer whereas tissue biopsy is performed only at the very beginning of the treatment regime. A tissue biopsy only checks for the presence of cancer and does not provide any additional insights.
- It also provides insights around whether the patient would showcase some sort of resistance for the treatment even before the clinical symptoms show up.
Liquid Biopsy Is Reliable?
Broadly speaking, yes it is reliable. The liquid biopsy technique has gained traction and acceptance. However, it may be too early to comment on whether it can stand by itself and compete at par with the gold standard “tissue biopsy”.
Advantages of Liquid BiopsyBlood being the sample for liquid biopsies, there are several different applications. Click To Tweet
Some of these could be:
- Patients can be stratified for therapy selection using companion diagnostics
- Monitoring the treatment response
- To further use the data to understand the progression and response of the disease. The circulating tumour cells (CTCs) obtained from the blood sample can be used for testing DNA abnormalities, mutations and protein/ RNA expression.
Therefore, liquid biopsy effectively complements and provides an improved well-informed conclusion from cancer patients’ blood samples. We see liquid biopsy market climbing the uphill trajectory and therefore it is expected to be the game changer in the field of diagnostics.
Cancer treatment breakthroughs in India
Around 2.25 million people in India are living with cancer. The situation worsens every year, with the addition of around 1.15 million cases. Lip, oral cavity cancers top the chart for men whereas breast cancer tops the chart for women. Despite numerous studies and experiments, cancer cure remains elusive. Early diagnosis and management are the best bets against this dreadful disease.
Medical care has changed drastically over the past few years. Earlier, cancer care was only possible in a hospital. However, with time, in-hospital care has changed to OPD care or daycare in which patients only go to the hospital for chemotherapy sessions.
The next big leap in cancer care is home healthcare. Patients, who are on medical treatment, do not have to travel to a hospital for any procedure and all the treatment can be provided at home with the quality of the hospital. The care of patients who require surgical management or radiotherapy has also revolutionized as most of the pre- and post-surgical care, hydration therapy, and nutrition therapy are all available at home. Medical care has seen a steady evolution and expected breakthroughs are as follows.
- Immunotherapy: Cancers are difficult to fight due to their ability to fool the body’s immune system, which often treats them as normal cells. Immunotherapy helps in marking cancer cells and help the immune fight them. Few immunotherapy drugs are already available in the market and few are under clinical trials.
- Advanced radiotherapy: The brain controls every system of the human body. Brain cancer can be disabling if not treated. Radiotherapy, the widely accepted treatment for brain cancer, often affects important functions of the brain like memory, processing speed, and attention span, often greatly affecting patients’ quality of life. Doctors are working to develop new techniques so that these important functions are spared without compromising on the quality of treatment. Initial trials have shown promise and more trials are underway to develop the final technique. Recently, Chennai’s Apollo hospital opened India’s first proton center that will use cyclotron to bombard positively charged magnet-controlled proton particles to kill cancer cells. The technique will help patients with tumours in the close proximity of the critical organs.
- Liquid biopsy: Tissue biopsies are the confirmatory test for cancer. Tissue from a tumour is collected and studied. In some cases, tissue biopsies are impossible due to the location of a tumour. The surgical procedure also involves high risks and costs. To solve the problem, researchers are exploring a new field called liquid biopsy, which relies on analyzing bits of tumour material — molecules as well as whole cells — that are found in bodily fluids such as blood or urine. The technology, still in the infantile phase, can be the future of cancer diagnosis.
- Personalized therapy or gene therapy: Available treatments wipe out the healthy cells along with cancerous cells. This led scientists to develop drugs that can specifically target cancer cells. Initial success came in the form of tisagenlecleucel and axicabtagene, which were approved for certain leukaemia and lymphomas. It is just a matter of time before gene therapy will be available for all types of cancers.
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