22nd March 2024

What is a liquid biopsy and how can they help lung cancer patients?

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There has been a lot in the news today about liquid biopsies and how they can help diagnose certain types of lung cancer. So, we’ve answered the most common questions about liquid biopsies and how they can help people with lung cancer.

If you have any other questions or need any help or support, you can arrange a call with one of our lung cancer nurses.

What is a liquid biopsy?

A liquid biopsy is a type of blood test which can detect cancer in the body. This can reduce the need for more invasive biopsies and help speed up diagnosis, staging and treatment of lung cancer.

A liquid biopsy can also be of significant to patients where it is difficult to get tissue biopsy or adequate tissue samples for testing.

How can a liquid biopsy help someone with lung cancer?

There are many different types of lung cancer and the type of lung cancer you have will determine your treatment options. Certain types of lung cancer respond better to particular treatments.

In this instance, a liquid biopsy is looking for fragments of DNA from the tumour within the bloodstream. If such DNA is found, this would indicate the person has a mutation driven lung cancer, such as ALK+ or EGFR+, and be able to have a targeted therapy.

Liquid biopsy samples were previously sent to the USA for testing. Now, under a new trial by the NHS, samples will be analysed in a laboratory at the Royal Marsden Hospital with the aim of turning around the results within 14 days. This will allow for more people to start on treatment for quicker.

What is a targeted therapy?

A targeted therapy is a drug that has been designed to block the processes that causes cancer to grow. The drug focuses on, or targets, the mutation, hence targeted therapy. These drugs are also sometimes called biological therapies.

What are the benefits of targeted therapies?

Some, but not all, people with mutation driven lung cancer respond very well to a targeted therapy. Though not a cure for lung cancer, treatment can often stop people’s cancer from growing, and even shrink it.

  • usually cause cancer shrinkage more often than chemotherapy
  • usually cause fewer side effect than chemotherapy and therefore support a better quality of life while on treatment
  • may increase life expectancy over chemotherapy.

Within a few weeks of starting the treatment, people can often feel better as their symptoms from the cancer reduce. People may notice reduced coughing, easier breathing and reduced pain.

What causes mutation driven lung cancer?

Environmental factors are responsible for many gene mutations in lung cancer. This can include air pollution and exhaust fumes, certain chemicals and radon gas.

In a proportion of lung cancer, the acquired gene mutations appear to be random things that happen. The genes change inside your cells without any obvious outside trigger.

Over the past few years, research has found increasingly detailed information relating to genetic mutations and about how some cancer cells grow and spread. This has led to great advances in understanding, treating and managing some types of lung cancer.

If you have any questions about liquid biopsy, mutation driven lung cancer or targeted therapy, you can request a call from our nurse.

You can also read about how targeted therapies are helping people who are living with stage 4 mutation driven lung cancer.