Track Cancer Pain-Free with Liquid Biopsy


PHILADELPHIA, PA. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Cancer patients routinely endure surgical biopsies to diagnose and detect progression of the disease. Now researchers have a non-invasive diagnostic tool called a liquid biopsy that replaces cutting. This non-invasive procedure finds the cancer wherever it is hiding in the body.

Kim Belcastro was an active wife and mother of two until doctors discovered cancer; lurking first in her lungs and then in her brain and spine.

“By the time it was diagnosed, it was in four different parts of my body,” Belcastro told Ivanhoe.

Kim had three surgical biopsies which were debilitating. But at Penn medicine, her doctors used a liquid biopsy from a simple blood test that looks for the genetic mutations causing tumors to spread. It searches for DNA circulating in the blood that identify as cancer. With that knowledge, doctors are better able to modify chemotherapy.

“Just fathom that in her case we were able to find the one or two very, very small pieces, microscopic pieces of DNA that contain this mutation … among billions and billions of DNA that were in her blood.” Erica Carpenter, MBA, PhD, Director of Liquid Biopsy Center at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania explained. (Read Full Interview)

“With this technology, we were able to find this other relevant mutation, for which now she’s on another oral therapy and she’s experiencing extremely good clinical benefit,” Charu Aggarwal, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, division of Oncology, Hematology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania told Ivanhoe.

Thanks to this early warning system, Kim still enjoys life with her family.

In many cases, these biopsies identify the same mutations in the blood that are present in the tumor. The FDA approved the first liquid biopsy over a decade ago as a test for cancer, and a year ago a circulating tumor DNA test was approved that spots the mutations.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

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REPORT:       MB #4273

BACKGROUND: A tissue biopsy can be painful, risky, and expensive. Biopsies include a variety of procedures that are invasive. Some biopsies use needles, and sometimes CT or Ultrasound guided biopsies are used to direct the needle inside the lesion. In fact, in procedures that are directed to a specific organ, the needles can be inserted from the back, the belly, or the bone, then through the targeted organ. In a skin biopsy, instead of a needle being used, a circular blade is used to get a sample of the skin tissue.  The more invasive a biopsy is the more chance it requires hospitalization, and will require the use of pain relief medications. In addition to the pain of the surgery, it can take up to a week to get the actual test results.


PURPOSE: A biopsy helps to diagnose most cancers. It can also be used to diagnose other conditions that may be causing problems in the body. Biopsies detect things that an imaging test cannot confirm, such as breast cancer, or a polycystic fibrosis. Biopsies can also detect whether or not the cells are cancerous or non-cancerous.

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NEW TECHNOLOGY:  The liquid biopsy includes the process of collecting five milliliters of blood. The procedure is quicker than a standard biopsy, and the blood sample gets reduced to 2 milliliters of blood plasma. The blood plasma is then analyzed to detect tumors in the DNA. Similar to tissue biopsies, liquid biopsies can detect and diagnose the progression of cancer. In addition, there is less chance of getting an infection or bleeding, since it is non-invasive. The revolutionary treatment seeks to improve the survival rates of cancer and to preserve tissue for other types of testing, such as cancer immunotherapy.

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John Infanti

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Erica Carpenter, MBA, PhD

Read the entire Q&A