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A new way to spot the spread of cancer

Doctors may soon be able to do away with expensive, painful biopsies to detect the spread of cancer, and instead use a blood test developed by Scripps Research scientist Peter Kuhn, principle investigator at the Scripps Physics Oncology Center.

Scripps Research Associate Professor Peter Kuhn

Scripps Research Associate Professor Peter Kuhn

The technique involves taking a blood sample from a cancer patient and adding a chemical that illuminates cells that have broken off of tumors, called circulating tumor cells. Such cells can spread to other sites in the body causing metastatic cancer.

"It's a next-generation technology," said Dr. Kuhn, a Scripps Research associate professor. "It significantly boosts our ability to monitor, predict and understand cancer progression, including metastasis, which is the major cause of death for cancer patients."

The test, known as HD-CTC, is an improvement upon the test currently used to look for circulating tumor cells, called CellSearch. Dr. Kuhn's test is far more sensitive and thus more useful for a wide variety of cancer patients.

Dr. Kuhn's test takes 40,000 images of the cells in each blood sample, identifying and labeling abnormal cells and providing photos for pathologists and oncologists to review.

Dr. Kelly Bethel, a Scripps Clinic Medical Group diagnostic pathologist who worked with Dr. Kuhn on the new technique, said the test would help doctors tailor therapy to individual patients.

"This is not going to cure cancer," she said. "But it is going to help us understand the evolution of the disease. You can use the test right after someone has gone through treatment to see if they still have disease in their body and whether there are circulating cells that put you at risk for metastasis."

Learn more about the groundbreaking cancer research being done at the Scripps Physics Oncology center.

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