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Further potential for liquid biopsy and colorectal cancer

March 12, 2021

Researchers are working toward new liquid biopsies that could potentially help guide the treatment of certain patients with colorectal cancer.

The new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that a liquid biopsy – based on blood or urine – can reveal the effectiveness of initial treatment by detecting circulating tumor DNA, evidence of lingering disease. The work was focused on patients with oligometastatic cancer, meaning the cancer has spread beyond the patient’s original tumor but only to a small number of sites. Such patients undergo chemotherapy to shrink the tumors before having surgery to remove whatever remains of the primary tumor.

The new findings could help doctors better decide whether to recommend further surgery and radiation, or chemotherapy, as the next step. Other liquid biopsies for colorectal cancer are under development, but the ones in this study are uniquely oriented to oligometastatic cancers.

“Being able to measure response to early chemotherapy without prior knowledge of the tumor’s mutations is a novel idea and important for being able to determine whether the patient responded well to the therapy,” said senior author Aadel A. Chaudhuri, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis .

“This can provide guidance on how to treat oligometastatic disease. For example, if the liquid biopsy indicates that a patient responded well to the early chemotherapy, perhaps they should be offered the possibility of more surgery, which could potentially cure their disease. But if they didn’t respond well, it’s likely the cancer is too widespread and can’t be eradicated with surgery, so those patients should receive more chemotherapy to control their disease.”

Screening should begin at 45

Although clinical trials would be needed prior to clinical use, progress like this is encouraging to see, especially in this National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In related news, researchers recently found that heavy drinking increases colon cancer risk.

Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. Every year, about 140,000 people in the United States get colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die of it.

Risk increases with age. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Only one-third of adults age 50 to 75 are up to date on colorectal cancer screenings. Screening should begin at 45, according to the American Cancer Society.

At iSpecimen, we will continue to support liquid biopsy developers and other researchers with biofluids, cells and tissue from specific patient donors with specific types of cancer as well as healthy, normal controls.

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