Liquid Biopsies for Painless Cancer Detection

Researchers are developing a “liquid biopsy” technique that scans blood for DNA, and could make cancer detection part of a routine check-up.

Liquid Biopsy Technique / Image: Ed Reschke/Getty Images
Liquid Biopsy Technique / Image: Ed Reschke/Getty Images

Biopsies are considered the best method of detecting cancer, but they require painful and invasive procedures to extract tissue from the body. However, a recent article from The Guardian put a spotlight on a new technique that could make cancer detection simple enough for a routine checkup with your physician. The goal is to prevent the pain of surgery, monitor tumor activity to adjust treatment, and save peoples’ lives.

As cells die, they shed DNA into the bloodstream. The new test that's being developed by doctors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, examines these bits of DNA to find mutations in already-diagnosed cancer, or to potentially diagnose cancer early. One issue is the genetic material specific to cancer represents just .1% of all “cell-free DNA” found in blood plasma, making the search extremely tedious. One of the researchers said that within five years, be believes people could receive tests that search for about 20 cancer gene mutations.

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