Making a Hard Diagnosis a Lot Easier on Patients


BALTIMORE, Md. (Ivanhoe, Newswire) – Malignant brain cancer is aggressive, and biopsies are invasive and painful. But now, some doctors have developed a new method of confirming a diagnosis – a liquid biopsy. Hard Diagnosis

Brain cancer’s survival rate can be as low as 10 percent, so doctors are quick to cut into the tumor for biopsy. But now, Johns Hopkins is doing something different to diagnose – drawing cerebrospinal fluid from the patient’s back, searching for abnormal chromosomes.

“If there’s a cancer growing in the brain, there is a high probability that it’s gonna shed material into the water that’s bathing it goes down through your brain, into the spinal cord, at the base of the spine. The procedure typically lasts a few minutes,” explains Professor of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Chetan Bettegowda, MD, PhD.

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These chromosomal genetic misfires from the liquid biopsy are fed into an algorithm to identify cancerous and non-cancerous cells. So far, the success rate is high, and patients endure far less pain.

Dr. Bettegowda says, “So one day, the goal is to be able to say for an individual that has a neurological problem, from a finding on a brain scan or an MRI scan, we would be able to do this minimally invasive test and say we think there’s a very high likelihood that there’s a cancerous process.”

And treatment can begin. This cerebrospinal analysis can also be used to evaluate the treatment and how the cancer is responding. More clinical trials are planned for that objective.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Matt Goldschmidt, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Brain cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cells within the brain or its surrounding tissues. It can develop from primary brain cells, the cells that form other brain components, or from cancer cells that spread (metastasize) to the brain from other parts of the body. Brain cancer can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous), with malignant tumors posing a more serious threat to health. There are two types of brain cancers: primary brain tumors and metastatic brain tumors. In 2023, 1,900 people in the United States were diagnosed with brain cancer, and the average age of a brain cancer patient was 59.


DIAGNOSING: Symptoms of brain cancer include, but are not limited to: severe seizures, weakness or paralysis in body parts, loss of balance, personality or mood changes, nausea and vomiting, and/or vision problems. Doctors can usually diagnose brain cancer with a CT scan, an MRI, an MRS, a PET scan, a SPECT, or a lumbar puncture. While the exact causes of brain cancer are not fully understood, certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These risk factors include exposure to ionizing radiation (such as radiation therapy for other cancers), family history of brain tumors, genetic conditions, and certain environmental factors.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is looking into retrieving cerebrospinal fluid to better diagnose brain cancer. Professor of Neurosurgery, Chetan Bettegowda, MD, PhD, is the senior study author, and says, “These chromosomal genetic misfires from the liquid biopsy are fed into an algorithm to identify cancerous and non-cancerous cells, and so far, the success rate is high and patients endure far less pain.”

(Source: Chetan Bettegowda, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)


Amy Mone                               Christopher Douville           

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Chetan Bettegowda, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery

Read the entire Q&A