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New blood test could prevent unnecessary chemotherapy

Tuesday 30th April 2019
Researchers are investigating the possibility of using a simple blood test to determine whether or not a patient needs chemotherapy after cancer surgery.
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The current treatment procedure for many forms of early-stage cancer is surgery to remove any tumours, then chemotherapy. This latter treatment is a precaution to prevent the cancer from returning, but such relapses are impossible to predict, meaning many patients go through chemotherapy without necessarily needing to.

Given how potentially dangerous and unpleasant chemotherapy can be, this is a situation that could be improved, and that is exactly what a team of researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute are trying to do. They are trialling a blood test that could determine whether or not a patient is at risk of their cancer returning.

Associate Professor Jeanne Tie, clinician scientist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said: “While chemotherapy is an essential, life-saving treatment, we don’t want patients receiving it if they don’t need it. We want to help these patients avoid serious and ongoing side-effects associated with chemotherapy.”

The blood test works by looking for circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), which refers to fragments of DNA released by a tumour into the bloodstream. The idea is that if a patient has little to no ctDNA in their system, they are therefore at a low risk of relapse and can safely be denied chemotherapy.

This also provides patients with peace of mind, as before the test there was no reliable way to say what the risk of recurrence might be. Hearing they are low-risk will help patients feel at ease after surgery, while high-risk patients can be reliably put through chemotherapy knowing that it is the correct thing to do.

Currently, the test is being trialled with around 400 patients across more than 40 hospitals, however the researchers are hoping to eventually attract more than 2,000 participants. These trials are expected to run until 2021 for bowel cancer and 2019 for ovarian cancer.

Written by Martin Lambert?
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