Incidents of lung cancer have increased dramatically in the last hundred years, largely due to smoking. It is the most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide because it usually doesn’t become symptomatic until late stages and there are a lack of curative therapies to treat the disease at this late stage. Liquid biopsies are the new frontier in performing diagnoses and molecular inspection of lung cancer; the current most popular method is tissue biopsy.
Liquid biopsies have the potential to substitute tissue biopsies because they are minimally invasive and capture DNA information from the blood in the tumor. Currently, a biopsy or several biopsies are required to create the molecular profile of a tumor. Recurring biopsies are invasive and may miss portions of the tumor that develop resistance to treatment. A minimally invasive method of early detection would prove extremely useful. Liquid biopsies may be that solution, allowing for early detection and more frequent monitoring in a noninvasive way.
There are multiple platforms for liquid biopsies, a new one coming about almost every week. The most common are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and next-generation sequencing; multiple platforms incorporate the two. The technologies that are being used in tissue biopsies are now being applied to liquid as well.
The liquid biopsy methods hold great potential in diagnosing and analyzing lung cancer. But before widespread clinical application can occur, there are several challenges that must be met:
- There needs to be an optimized standard method for sample gathering.
- There must be uniform procedures for analysis.
- We must identify the biomarkers most likely to yield useful information.
- A series of clinical trials must be performed in order to validate analysis protocols.
Furthermore, we should find a way to maximize test sensitivity to target mutations within lung cancer.