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CTC Test Useful for Tracking Progress of Mesothelioma and Lung Cancers

Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center report that they have developed an “extremely sensitive test” that allows them to indentify as few as three circulating tumor cells (CTC) in non-small cell lung cancer patients.  This breakthrough is beneficial for allowing medical teams to track cancer progress and efficacy of treatments for lung cancer patients.  Mesothelioma patients may also benefit from the non-invasive test for monitoring progress. 

Mesothelioma is a rare, serious cancer most often affecting the lining of the lungs that occurs in individuals exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.  While pleural mesothelioma is not classified as a lung cancer according to the medical definition, the treatments for lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma are often similar. Currently, there is no effective screening method for determining the appropriate treatment for a mesothelioma patient. 

Circulating cancer cells detected through the test can indicate that a tumor has spread or is likely to spread.  The use of the “high-throughput matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry single nucleotide polymorphism analysis (MALDI-TOF MS SNP)” allows the researchers to identify the genetic mutations, or biomarkers, from the few malignant cells that can be applied to CTC samples. 

The biomarkers in turn are used to track progress of “genetic changes and thus monitor the cancer and the effectiveness of any treatments being administered.”  The test can also be effective for developing new drugs and possibly, a cure for mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma is considered incurable. 

“We have developed an extremely sensitive test that could be able to detect mutations present in circulating tumor cells (CTCs), and we are hoping that from their characterization, we would be able to understand diagnostic, prognostic and predictive markers,” said Heidi S. Erickson, Ph.D., assistant professor of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

The MALDI-TOF-MS SNP test is still being tested in the lab.  The next step is to identify samples from actual lung cancer patients. 

MD Anderson treats approximately 150 mesothelioma patients each year, with the number continuing to grow.   The mesothelioma cancer program has over 30 experts representing the areas of thoracic surgery, thoracic medical oncology, radiation, pulmonary, and pathology – all with an expertise dedicated and focused on mesothelioma.  

Just this year, Anne Tsao, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology and director of its Mesothelioma Program, declared one of her mesothelioma patients cancer free

Erickson presented the findings at the AACR-IASLC Joint Conference on Molecular Origins of Lung Cancer: Biology, Therapy and Personalized Medicine, held Jan. 8-11, 2012.


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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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