Despite numerous advances in the management of illness in recent history, treatments for cancer remain notoriously harmful and are often unsuccessful. However, new research in the UK has shown that the genetics of tumor cells can help detect cancer relapses earlier, and pave the way for new treatments.
How cancer arises
The cells of our body, which contain DNA (what makes up our genes), regularly multiply to replace the older ones. This process is monitored by body to ensure it is done in a controlled manner. Rarely the DNA in these cells can change slightly (mutate). If the body fails to repair this mutation, cells may begin to divide uncontrollably. These cells are cancer cells that can grow into tumors, which contain the faulty DNA. Cancer grows quickly and spreads aggressively. Early detection is paramount.
Previous research has detected DNA from cancer cells in the blood of some people who have had breast or bowel cancer. This was significant as it predicted those whose cancer would return. It is possible that these fundamental findings will apply to many cancer types, and new research has shown that lung cancer can be added to this list.
These blood tests picked up the return of cancer earlier than a scan, which is the usual method. This varied from just 10 days to 346 days. This means that treatment can be started earlier, whilst the cancer is still small.
These findings are at an early stage but have great potential to be developed. Understanding how cancer works also allows for new treatments to be researched.
These findings again raise the debate around genetic testing: investigations that can predict whether or not people are at risk of certain illnesses. There are pros and cons to these tests: on the positive side, people may wish to be prepared for an eventual illness to themselves or any future family. Conversely, people may not wish to know, as it can understandably cause a lot of worries. There is also no guarantee that the test result will be correct, potentially causing people to be given false information about their health.
This is just a taster of the ethics of genetic testing. It is a very complex area, and if you wish to know more, please visit the links below. This area of medicine is relatively new, with many drawbacks that must be tackled. Nevertheless, research such as this is undoubtedly promising: further progress is hopefully just around the corner.
A note from the Editor
Cancer is one of the world’s greatest killers. With 1 in 3 people personally affected at some point in their lives, there is not one of us who has not be touched by the disease. Early detection of cancer is one of the strongest weapons we have in our fight. Aside from preventing cancer altogether. This new research provides us with better and earlier detection, fighting cancer when it’s small and vulnerable.
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.
Links and further reading
- Cross S, Underwood’s pathology: a clinical approach. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2013 6th
- Original article: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature22364.epdf?referrer_access_token=qjVskdQNjEdyl7og4nwIa9RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0Mbx-wJEDpEAUs93oWYMQHulmFIz81Onyq9wB9tocJUKDmPof4629MnPgJfQ-WrMd-bhEoRLbshzwG-3dvXAoE9izRNmMPaQ-39BpFHW9cuniggckukRbS6xOdyGSYbAIGnVThQTfgooguratlbZMS6mJrVaDs7SibO7D53Etz3RA%3D%3D&tracking_referrer=www.bbc.co.uk
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