Early detection usually offers the best chance to beat cancer. Unfortunately, many tumours are not discovered until they have grown relatively large and spread to other parts of the body.
In Kenya there is a growing demand for diagnostic tests, given the growing incidence of lung, breast and other cancers. The introduction of a non-invasive diagnostic procedure and reluctance of the patients to go through painful biopsies as well as increase in the demand for personalised medicine is fuelling the search for a new alternative treatment methods for cancer.
Compared to tissue biopsy, liquid biopsy is minimally invasive and cheaper. It also is possible to monitor the changes that occur in the body during treatment which serves as an early indicator of recurrence or resistance.
Liquid biopsy is a pan cancer (covering all types of cancer) genomic test done on a blood sample to check for the presence of cancer tumour genes and their specific types of mutation.
According to Dr Robin Noreh who is the chief executive at massive genomics, a clinic that specialises in liquid biopsy, the procedure is more precise and highly accurate than other tests.
“When a patient comes in, we take a blood sample. The blood test is a hundred times more sensitive and the results are much more comprehensive than normal tissue samples. This is because tissue biopsies tend to be biased based on whether the body part they were drawn from was cancerous or not,” says Dr Noreh.
He says that liquid biopsies are associated with significantly less morbidity and can be scheduled more frequently to provide a personalised snapshot of disease at successive time points.
“We have over 400 “onco genes” or genes that can grow and become cancerous if not checked within the body’s genetic structure. Liquid biopsy done here for example covers the entire gene to provide a more comprehensive picture of the cancer hotspots within a gene,” says Dr Noreh. He adds that the test is comprehensive, checking for over 100 types of cancer occurring in the brain, lungs, colon, liver and other organs in over 400 different cancer “hotspots” spread across the body’s genes.
“Remember, cancer cells do not die, instead they keep on growing and eventually multiply, spreading over the affected area or body organ and to other parts of the body,” adds Dr Noreh.
Not only does liquid biopsy tests help patients identify the type of cancer and the type of therapies available but it also establishes whether the current therapy the patient has been prescribed is actually working or not.
“The test can therefore eliminate the need for repetitive, inaccessible, painful and expensive painful biopsies and is a trustworthy method to detect the presence of tumours that imaging scans like PET Scans and MRIs cannot catch,” says Dr Noreh. “This is how someone is able to make the decision to have a mastectomy before the cancer even attacks the body,” he says.
Dr Naftali Busakhala, who is chair for the Division of Hematology and Oncology, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH), agrees with the lab experts saying that the new technology is likely to push diagnosis and treatment of genetic conditions in the country.
“In the past, doctors had to rely on Magnetic Reasoning Imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET scans), computed axial tomography (CT Scans) X-rays and tissue biopsies to see which areas were affected by cancer and other diseases, but now the tests make it easier to detect cancer by examining the circulating genetic components in the blood,” he says.
Dr Busakhala says the technology can also be used to detect diseases other than cancer in unborn babies by checking for protein defects in blood samples.