Can counting cancer cells help to predict outcome?

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Researchers working with Cancer Research UK looked at the number of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in blood samples of 101 patients with a type of the disease called non small cell lung cancer before and after they had undergone one cycle of chemotherapy.

They found lung cancer patients with five or more CTCs had a significantly worse survival rates. The average overall survival was 4.3 months for patients with five or more CTCs compared to 8.1 months for patients with fewer than five.

The findings suggest that counting CTCs could be a simple way to monitor how well a patient is responding to treatment within a few weeks of starting it, the researchers said. Early detection of a rise could help doctors to move on to new treatments sooner.

"We now need to test our findings in more patients but, if our results are confirmed, there is now the potential to tailor treatments to individual patients and find new ways to treat the disease," said Fiona Blackhall, a doctor from The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester who worked on the study.

Lung cancer kills 1.2 million people a year around the world and is one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer because over two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when curative treatment is not possible.

This appears to be a simple test without the need for additional invasive procedures for patients. If treatments can be tailored more effectively to individual patients this has to be good news for all those suffering from lung cancer. I hope that a larger research study will confirm these results so patients can begin to see the benefits as soon as possible.

Patricia Wakeford

Solicitor

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