Trending News Today: Liquid Biopsies Show Promise in Cancer

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

The emerging trend of liquid biopsies has quickly gained popularity in the medical world and may offer hope as a potential alternative to current painful biopsy procedures, reported The New York Times. Traditional biopsies involve extracting a piece of the tumor through a needle or by complicated surgeries. However, liquid biopsies use a blood test to detect cancer mutations, since tiny amounts of tumor DNA fragments can be found in the blood. Currently, liquid biopsies are not used to diagnose cancer, but instead monitor disease progression and detect genetic mutations in the tumor to help choose drugs for treatment. The results of the largest liquid biopsy study examined 15,000 samples of blood from patients with various cancers show the potential to be used as an alternative in the future. However, the liquid biopsies did fall short in about 15% of the patients overall who showed no detection of tumor DNA in the blood. “There are simply tumors that do not shed DNA into circulation at detectable levels, so we are bound to miss them,” said Philip C. Mack, director of molecular pharmacology at the University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Extending hormonal therapy to 10 years could benefit women with early stage breast cancer, reported The New York Times. Current practices require women to take an estrogen suppressing drug for 5 years, but the results from a recent study involving postmenopausal women given an aromatase inhibitor show a reduced risk of cancer recurrence or new cases of cancer developing. “These data are important to millions of women around the world,” said breast cancer expert, Harold J. Burstein, a spokesman for ASCO. “(The results) suggest that longer durations of a widely available therapy reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and prevent second cancers from arising.” Some experts noted that women who took the drug for 10 years did not live longer overall than the control group. Additionally, it was unclear if the benefit of 10 years of an aromatase inhibitor outweighed the risk of adverse events like bone loss and joint and muscle pain.

Combination cancer therapies using multiple drugs has proven to be more effective than just 1 or 2 drugs, but this treatment approach comes at a high cost, posing a dilemma for patients and insurers. According to The Wall Street Journal, critics are concerned these high costs are putting a strain on budgets and often times seem unrelated to how well the drugs works. The tension continues to increase as this approach begins to spread. “We have to think about it the benefit from combination therapies is worth the cost,” said Daniel Goldstein, medical oncologist at Rabin Medical Center in Israel. President of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review Steve Pearson suggest that drug companies should work together to offer group discounts on the combination treatment. Although some drug manufacturers would consider the discounts, they note that there are challenges to this approach because of the fragmented health insurance system in the United States.