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Blood test 'to target prostate cancer treatment'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
blood sample

19th June 2017 – A new 3-in-1 blood test could revolutionise the treatment of prostate cancer, say scientists, and help pave the way for personalised patient treatment.

The key to the new treatment is the ability to test for cancer DNA in a person's bloodstream. This so-called 'liquid biopsy' has the advantage of being cheaper and less invasive than traditional biopsies.

Clinical trials

The blood test is still in early clinical trials involving only a few patients but scientists say it could be used in 3 ways:

  1. Men with advanced prostate cancer could be checked to see if they would benefit from treatment with new drugs called PARP inhibitors – which can help stop cancer cells from repairing themselves, causing the tumour cells to die
  2. An analysis of DNA in people's blood after they had started a specific course of treatment can check whether it is working and if not, switch them to an alternative treatment
  3. Monitor a patient's blood throughout treatment to check whether the cancer is evolving to become resistant to the drugs being used

The team from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust say it is the first time a test has been developed to aid targeted cancer therapy for specific genetic faults within cancer tumours.

They say it could one day lead to a PARP inhibitor called olaparib becoming standard treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

Some patients respond to treatment with olaparib for years but in other patients, the treatment either fails early, or the cancer evolves resistance. This means that cancer cells regain the ability to repair themselves, causing tumours to grow.

Reducing cancer DNA in the blood

Using the new blood test, the researchers report that patients who responded to olaparib saw an average fall in the levels of circulating cancer DNA of 49.6% after just 8 weeks of treatment. This compared to an average rise of 2.1% in patients who did not respond to the drug.

Men whose blood levels of DNA had decreased at 8 weeks after treatment survived an average of 17 months, compared with only 10.1 months for those whose cancer DNA levels remained high.

The study, in the journal Cancer Discovery, involved samples taken from 49 men at The Royal Marsden with advanced prostate cancer enrolled in a phase II clinical trial of olaparib.

'Truly revolutionary'

The results have drawn comments from several experts in the field. Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, says "Blood tests for cancer promise to be truly revolutionary. They are cheap and simple to use, but most importantly, because they aren’t invasive, they can be employed or applied to routinely monitor patients to spot early if treatment is failing – offering patients the best chance of surviving their disease."

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