How Simple Blood Tests Could Revolutionize Cancer Treatment
By Sarah Elizabeth Richards/Smithsonianmag.com
When 49-year-old Star Dolbier landed at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in the summer of 2018 with a large mass on her left lung, she’d done enough research to know the situation was dire. The five-year survival rate for her type of advanced lung cancer—the most common among patients like herself who had never smoked—was 6 percent.
Plus, she’d likely have to go through a painful biopsy surgery—in which doctors remove tissue from her lung through her chest wall—and wait weeks for the results.
So when she met with her new oncologist, Dolbier was surprised to learn that the medical center was part of a research trial that would analyze tiny fragments of cancer DNA that the tumor had shed in her blood. The results of the new test made by a company called Guardant Health in Silicon Valley came back within a week.
They revealed that she was part of the 15 percent of lung cancer patients with a mutation in their EGFR gene, which made her eligible for a new drug treatment that been approved just four months earlier for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.
The drug is part of a new generation…