If you’re around my age (not telling), you’ve probably had your blood drawn, maybe even regularly. Electrolytes, sugars, cholesterol, liver and kidney stuff, HIV testing and the like. But imagine that that same blood sample could tell you whether or not you have any one of 40 cancers? The future is upon us.
Written in Blood
Welcome to the age of “liquid biopsies.” These are “tests done on a sample of blood to look for cancer cells…or for pieces of DNA from tumor cells.” It’s subtle biology, but when normal cells die, their contents spill into the bloodstream, loaded with all sorts of genetic material. There are cells in the blood whose job it is to clear up this debris quickly. When cancer cells die, because there are so many of them, the amount of debris is larger and it takes longer to mop up. This lets us detect small amounts cancer tumor DNA (ctDNA) and other genomic fragments with next gen technology. Add to this a little genomic crunching, and this new breed of blood tests can now find cancers, tell you if treatments are working, and help us to better understand how cancers change.