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Cancer detection

Posted: January 4, 2011 10:48 a.m.
Updated: January 5, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Despite the great medical advances of the past half-century, cancer has proved an elusive enemy; for many strains of the disease, survival rates are scarcely better now than they were decades ago. So every new discovery is met with enthusiasm, and that’s certainly the case for a new blood test announced earlier this week by Boston scientists, who are teaming with Johnson & Johnson to market a test that will help doctors determine what cancer cells are doing and how best to attack them.

The new test, using only a small sample of blood, is said to be so sensitive that it will measure one cancer cell among a billion healthy ones. Stray cancer cells usually mean a tumor has spread or is likely to, and the test will give scientists and physicians a new way to determine whether that’s taking place. That, in turn, will help doctors treat cancer. In the past, health care professionals have often had a long waiting period to see whether treatments were effective; with the new technology, they will be able to tell much more quickly what’s happening, thus telling them which treatments are working and which ones aren’t. And the blood sample test is much less invasive than many which are used now.

Ultimately, the test could become a sensitive screening tool, replacing such difficult procedures as colonoscopies. In the meantime, experimentation will be done at several of the premier cancer treatment facilities in the country. One doctor used the words “potential” and “excitement” in describing physicians’ reaction to the new test.

Cancer is a difficult scourge with which to contend. This new test could be a giant leap forward in treating the dread disease, and that’s good news for everybody in Kershaw County and around the world.

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