Cancer originates from small mistakes in our DNA. These mistakes are different for every person and dictate how aggressive their cancer is. On top of this, starting in development and continuing throughout life, new mistakes in our DNA can be made and others will disappear. This process can lead to treatment failure or even to instances of tumour growth in previously unaffected parts of the body. A clinical chemist from the Netherlands explains how a new procedure could revolutionize the diagnosis and follow-up experience for cancer patients.
By Mathie Leers
The gold standard in detecting cancer-inducing DNA errors is to analyse a little part of the tumour that is removed in a biopsy procedure by so-called fine needle aspiration. This investigation is often painful to the patient, and when the tumour is hidden by (or within) vital organs it is not always possible to perform the procedure at all. Additionally, fine needle aspirations are sometimes necessary to follow the evolution of the cancer and effects of therapy.
Because cancer cells need nutrients and oxygen to survive, they are surrounded by blood vessels. When these cells die, their components – including the DNA with the characteristic mistakes – will leak into the blood stream and eventually be eliminated in urine after filtration by the kidneys. By taking a few drops of blood or urine, these DNA errors can be detected by extremely sensitive tools and techniques that have been developed over the last decade.
The so-called liquid biopsy, clinical chemist Dr. Mathie Leers explains, is a very promising technique in the diagnosis of cancer, but also during therapy. In his review, recently published in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, he explains the different kinds of liquid biopsies and summarises the possible applications of this new technique: “Because knowledge about the possible mistakes in DNA leads to development of directed therapy, treatment can become personalised when using the liquid biopsy technique”.
However, as with all new approaches, this technique needs to be standardised and some procedural steps must be refined. These aspects are also highlighted and discussed in this review.
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