Unlike other cancer screening tests that identify proteins released by cancer cells such as prostate-specific antigen for early prostate cancer detection, or rely on radiology studies such as mammography for early detection of breast cancer, CTC technology works when researchers look for actual tumor cells in the blood from a patient who is already diagnosed with a specific type of cancer.
According to Haber, for those already diagnosed with cancer, the test may be able to identify the cells' specific DNA, and doctors can subsequently tailor more effective treatments.
"Every patient has a different kind of cancer, every cancer has a different set of mutations and the better we get at treating cancer, the more we use specific drugs or smart drugs that are targeted against specific genetic abnormalities in the cancer," Haber said. "It's a way of understanding the cancer in real time and targeting therapy against the specific cancer at a particular moment in time."
And while researchers like Haber embarking on the collaboration hope the test will monitor cancer progression in cancer patients and ultimately personalize a cancer patient's treatment, many experts say it's still too early to tell.
"What we don't need are more tests that measure this or measure that," Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society wrote in his blog. "What we desperately need are tests that make a difference in the lives of our patients."