Simple blood test to predict rare cancers' likely spread

Neelima Choahan

10/07/2018 3:49:05 PM

New Queensland University of Technology research has shed fresh light on how head and neck cancer spreads to other organs.

Liquid biopsy may help GPs diagnose head and neck cancers.
Liquid biopsy may help GPs diagnose head and neck cancers.

GPs may be able to order a simple blood test to predict if a patient’s head and neck cancer can spread to other organs long before conventional imaging can, thanks to new research being developed.
Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have identified clusters of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in blood samples from 15 people recently diagnosed with stage IV locally advanced head and neck cancer which had not spread to other organs.
Lead by Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera, A collective route to head and neck cancer metastasis evaluated 60 patients and was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.
‘Research on single CTCs has shown they have clinical significance in predicting the course of cancer, but understanding the role of clusters of CTCs in cancer spread has been limited,’ Associate Professor Punyadeera said.
‘We found that the presence or absence of short-lived CTC clusters in patients who had locally advanced head and neck cancer was associated with the spread of cancer to other organs.
‘The preliminary study found that six of the seven patients with stage IV head and neck cancer who had CTC clusters went on to develop lung or liver secondary cancers within six months.’
She said in contrast the study found the absence of CTCs or CTC clusters in patients with head and neck cancer may indicate no systemic spread.
‘This finding is potentially an important prognostic tool that could guide doctors’ choice of therapies as we move to personalised medicine for individual patients,’ Associate Professor Punyadeera said.
‘This work has been expanded into lung cancers where there are more targeted therapies.’
Co-author Dr Arutha Kulasinghe said it is early days yet for this finding.
‘But we now know that CTC clusters may hold promise as indicators of cancer spread,’ Dr Kulasinghe said.
‘CTC clusters represent micro-metastases which is why they can be detected up to six months before a macro-metastasis is discovered by conventional imaging such as CT scans.’
Dr Kulasinghe said further investigation involves a 100-patient longitudinal study funded by a Federal Government Cancer Australia grant.
‘We are also looking to expand this technology to other solid cancers such as lung cancer,’ he said.
According to the researchers, head and neck cancers are rare cancers and include cancer of the sinuses, nose, mouth, saliva glands, gums, tonsils, pharynx and larynx. They all have similar treatment.
It accounts for the fifth most common non-skin cancer globally.
Professor Punyadeera and her team are working with Professor Ian Papautsky, a Chicago-based biomedical engineer, who has developed a device to separate single CTCs and CTC clusters from the blood of cancer patients.
The findings were presented at the international Saliva and Liquid Biopsy Symposium which focused on the use of saliva or blood for the non-invasive diagnosis of disease.
Professor Punyadeera said other areas of liquid biopsy research at QUT presented at the Symposium were a saliva test to identify micro-organisms in the mouth that may predispose people who smoke tobacco or chew betel nut to mouth and throat cancers, and also an oral swab test for heart failure patients to manage this chronic condition. 

Cancer Australia head and neck cancer Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation Queensland University of Technology Saliva and Liquid Biopsy Symposium

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