Advances in Healthcare

How to Beat Cancer’s Top Killer? Find it Early — New Liquid Biopsy Does Just That.


Every year, lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. And not only is it the #1 cancer killer, lung cancer is the nation’s second highest overall cause of death behind heart disease. South Carolina ranks 13th in the nation in incidence of lung cancer, and that’s why we at Roper St. Francis are proud to be the first in the region to offer liquid lung biopsy—the latest tool to help diagnose lung cancer early, which, besides stopping smoking, is the best way to improve outcomes.

image of lungsThe liquid biopsy is less invasive, less costly, faster than other diagnostic tools, and only requires taking a test tube of blood. With this blood sample, we then do what’s known as rapid plasma genotyping, which looks for genetic mutations and protein abnormalities called cell-free DNA that are lung cancer indicators. Cell-free DNA is DNA that spills into the bloodstream from tumor cells.

There are two things that are particularly exciting about this new technique.

  1. The liquid biopsy test, which has a fast 72-hour turnaround time and Medicare covers, is highly accurate. If it comes back positive, then we know you have lung cancer and can immediately begin determining the best course of treatment.
  2. The test gives us a snapshot of specific genetic irregularities in the tumor, so we now have biomarkers that allow us to create a targeted, personalized course of treatment that will be most effective for your cancer.

What’s great is that this new liquid biopsy is highly accurate when it comes back positive, so that we know when it does we’re dealing with cancer and can immediately strategize the best treatment plan. While it does not detect all types of lung cancer, the ones that do give off these cell-free DNA markers that the liquid biopsy identifies tend to be the more difficult lung cancers to treat, so being able to diagnosis them early and jump on them as quickly as possible with a targeted treatment is a big advance.

man smokingThis new diagnostic test fits well with our Roper St. Francis CT Lung Screening program—a Medicare-covered low dose CT scan for those at high risk for lung cancer (people aged 55 – 80 who have smoked an equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years or more). Before we had this simple blood test, we had to biopsy a nodule that may have been found on the screening to determine whether or not it was cancer.

The last two years have been an exciting time in treating lung cancer, with the advent of low dose screening and now liquid biopsy to both identify cancer earlier and identify its specific genetic markers. Still, in South Carolina we see 4,000 cases of lung cancer each year, with a 72% mortality rate. So unless we detect it early, it’s a bad deal. And while we have made these advances in early detection, the number one thing people can do to improve these high mortality rates is to stop smoking, as smoking is associated with 90% of lung cancers.This new diagnostic test fits well with our Roper St. Francis CT Lung Screening program—a Medicare-covered low dose CT scan for those at high risk for lung cancer (people aged 55 – 80 who have smoked an equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years or more). Before we had this simple blood test, we had to biopsy a nodule that may have been found on the screening to determine whether or not it was cancer.

Ask your doctor if you are at risk and a candidate for our Lung Cancer Screening.

By Dr. Curtis Quinn, a thoracic surgeon with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners

One thought on “How to Beat Cancer’s Top Killer? Find it Early — New Liquid Biopsy Does Just That.

  1. Pingback: How to beat cancer’s top killer_ find it early — new liquid biopsy does just that. _ roper st. francis health hub ct scan department

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