Medical

New blood test identifies lung cancer mutations allowing doctors to better treat patients

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new blood test approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) allows doctors to provide individualized treatment in advanced lung cancer patients by identifying genetic mutations in the cancerous tumors as the disease progresses. 

News 8 spoke with Dr. Luis Raez, oncologist at Memorial Healthcare Systems in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Raez discussed the new test and how it can possibly increase the lifespan of those with advanced lung cancer.

Gillis: We’re talking about recent developments in terms of lung cancer. Would you talk about the advancements and how the prognosis for these patients has changed over the past decades?

Raez: There have been tremendous developments. We do what we call personalized medicine because in lung cancer–as well as other cancers–we have been able to identify genes that cause the cancer and are responsible for lung cancer and we now have an FDA-approved agent to identify these specific genes.

This genetic analysis to identify the genes can not only be done in tissue, which we’ve been doing for 5 to 6 years, but now we can do it using the blood of the patient–the genetic analysis–to see if they can benefit from these new developments. 

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Gillis: You call it a liquid biopsy. Can you speak to what this is about?

Raez: We are looking for these genes that are responsible for the lung cancer so we guide the patient to a specific treatment. And we used to do that in the tissue for the last 5 to 6 years. But it was challenging because sometimes there was not enough tissue and when a patient with stage 4 lung cancer comes to your office and he/she wants treatment for the cancer and you tell him no we have to wait to do a genetic analysis that takes 5 weeks it’s frustrating for them. 

With this liquid biopsy–meaning that we can identify and then extract the tumor–we can drawn the genetic analysis in the blood and we can tell the patient in less than 2 weeks what is an appropriate treatment for them and if they are eligible to get certain treatments aside from chemotherapy 

Gillis: It sounds like a much easier way to do things. 

Raez: They have a better quality of life and they are likely to survive much longer because of this target therapy. It is very specific for the gene and is more effective than chemotherapy. So, the patients can live years instead of months and they don’t have to endure toxicity so this improves their life tremendously. 

Gillis: We’ve got 30 seconds left. Anything else you’d like to add?

Raez: I think that it’s important that patients empower themselves and ask their oncologist about this type of testing. All of the oncologists in the country now know about this and we can give the patients the benefit that it brings. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.

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