Liquid Biopsy Improves Treatment Response Predication in Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Blood test helps predict how aggressive lung cancer patients will respond to treatment.

A blood test may enhance the ability to project treatment response in small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

The research team isolated circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from the blood of 31 patients with SCLC and analyzed the cells. They found that the patterns of genetic faults measured before treatment was linked to how well and for how long a patient may respond to chemotherapy.

“Our study reveals how blood samples could be used to anticipate how lung cancer patients may respond to treatments,” said lead researcher Caroline Dive.

The researchers also examined the genetic changes that occurred in patients who had initially responded to treatment, but later relapsed.

The results of the study showed that the pattern in these cells differed from patients who did not respond well to chemotherapy, suggesting different mechanisms of drug resistance had developed.

“Unfortunately, we have very few treatment options for patients with SCLC, and none at all for those whose cancer is resistant to chemotherapy,” Dive said. “By identifying differences in the patterns of genetic faults between patients, we now have a starting point to begin to understand more about how drug resistance develops in patients with this aggressive form of lung cancer.”

In the UK, lung cancer accounts for more than 1 of 5 total cancer deaths. Cancer Research UK’s Science Information Manager, Dr Emma Smith said, “… It’s vital that we find effective new treatments to fight the disease and save more lives.”

Biopsies involve a sample of tissue removed from the body so physicians can formulate a treatment strategy. However, tumors can be hard to reach, and are often too small to provide any useful clues for how to best treat a patient. An alternative is liquid biopsies, which provides a snapshot of the disease from a blood sample.

“These liquid biopsies are an incredibly exciting area of research,” Dr Smith said. “Studies like this help build a bigger picture of the disease, pointing the way to developing new treatments that are urgently needed for people with lung cancer.”