Non-invasive diagnostic tool for cancer biopsies

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Cancer patients routinely endure surgical biopsies to diagnose and detect progression of the disease. Now researchers have a non-invasive diagnostic tool called a liquid biopsy that replaces cutting and finds the cancer wherever it is hiding in the body. 

Kim Belcastro was an active wife and mother of two until doctors discovered cancer lurking first in her lungs and then in her brain and spine. 

Belcastro says "By the time it was diagnosed, it was in four different parts of my body." 

Kim had three surgical biopsies which were debilitating. But at Penn Medicine, her doctors used a liquid biopsy from a simple blood test that looks for the genetic mutations causing tumors to spread. It searches for DNA circulating in the blood that identify as cancer. With that knowledge, doctors are better able to modify chemotherapy.

Dr. Erica Carpenter says, "Just fathom that in her case we were able to find the one or two very, very small pieces-microscopic pieces of DNA that contain this mutation among billions and billions of DNA that were in her blood." 

Dr. Charu Aggarwal says, "With this technology, we were able to find this other relevant mutation, for which now she's on another oral therapy and she's experiencing extremely good clinical benefit." 

Thanks to this early warning system, Kim still enjoys life with her family. In many cases, these biopsies identify the same mutations in the blood that are present in the tumor.

 

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