While doctors have yet to find a cure for cancer, they’re getting steps closer to being able to identify and treat cancerous cells in the earliest stages of development.
Scientists in Boston and Johnson and Johnson—the New Jersey-based global American pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer packaged goods manufacturer—announced Monday they are working together to introduce a test available to consumers directly in their doctor’s office.
The blood test is able to identify a single cancer cell among a billion healthy ones. Along with Boston scientists and Johnson and Johnson, four additional cancer centers will start studies using the experimental tests this year.
The utility for researchers and doctors to identify stray cancer cells among billions of healthy ones means they can identify, treat and analyze results in a much more progressive fashion. Doctors believe that if one cell is spotted, a tumor has already spread or is likely to spread soon.
Doctors believe that “a test that can capture such cells has the potential to transform care for many types of cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon and lung,” according to AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione.
Massachusetts General Hospital describes its interest and involvement in developing the test:
“Circulating Tumor Cells or CTCs can be found in the blood of patients with primary tumor. These cells are extraordinarily rare and their detection presents a major challenge. Through a collaboration between bioengineers, molecular biologists and clinicians, we have developed a novel and radically different approach to detect and isolate CTCs…It also offers the opportunity to study “cancer stem cells” or “metastasis precursors”, thought to be at the origin of cancer spread via the bloodstream, to define their molecular vulnerabilities and help design new therapies to prevent cancer metastasis.”
In the past, doctors have screened for cancer by using mammograms, colonoscopies and needle biopsies. The new test is less invasive, provides results more quickly and can give doctors instantaneous insight as to what treatment steps to take next.