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Liquid biopsy could identify cancer patients at risk of metastatic disease

May 15, 2019

Analysing fragments of DNA that are shed by tumours into the bloodstream, could indicate early on whether patients are at risk of their cancer spreading, according to new research presented today [Wednesday 15 May].

Researchers at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust say ctDNA, a form of liquid biopsy, may be an accurate technique to monitor treatment response in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer, allowing treatment to be adapted or changed earlier to try to prevent the development of metastatic disease.

Results from the study, led by researchers at The Royal Marsden, have been presented at the EACR-ESMO joint conference on liquid biopsies.

Researchers analysed liquid biopsies from 47 patients at The Royal Marsden who had localised rectal cancer - i.e. cancer that had not already spread to other body parts. They took blood samples before, during and after patients had completed treatment with combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy (CRT), and after surgery. They were able to detect ctDNA in 74% of patients pre-treatment, 21% of patients mid-way through CRT, 21% after CRT and 13% after surgery. The ctDNA results at the end of CRT were associated with tumour response to CRT as shown on MRI scans.

With a median follow up of just over 2 years, they found ctDNA results to be consistent with occurrences of cancer spreading outside of the rectum; patients with ctDNA persisting throughout their treatment, were more likely to develop metastatic disease sooner.

Lead author Dr Shelize Khakoo, Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said: "We know patients respond quite differently to standard treatment - some will do really well, and have what we call a complete pathological response. For others, the cancer may spread during treatment.

"If we can predict early on who will go on to develop metastatic disease, we might be able to tailor treatment by making it more intense or trying an alternative."

Co-lead author Professor David Cunningham OBE, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said: 'These results suggest that liquid biopsies offer us an accurate method of establishing the cancer's activity throughout the body.

"Importantly what this study showed, which has not yet been explored, is that persistence of ctDNA mid-way through treatment could be an early indicator of the cancer's potential to spread. Using this measure, along with MRI scans, we can offer a more personalised treatment approach for patients."

Dr Khakoo added: "Whilst our findings are interesting and exciting, it's important to note that this was carried out in a small cohort of patients and would require further validation in a larger trial."
-end-
This study was funded by The Royal Marsden's GI and Lymphoma Unit. The authors thank The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and Patricia McGregor Travel Fellowship Fund for supporting travel to the conference, and support from the NIHR Royal Marsden/ICR BRC .

Notes to editors

'Circulating tumour DNA and MRI tumour regression grade to tailor neo-adjuvant treatment for patients with localised rectal cancer', will be presented by Dr Shelize Khakoo at the Joint EACR-ESMO Liquid biopsy conference during the Poster Spotlight Session on Wednesday 15 May 2019, 17.25 (CEST)

For further information contact Hannah Bransden, Senior PR & Communications Officer, Hannah.bransden@rmh.nhs.uk / 0207 811 8244

About The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world's first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe seeing and treating over 50,000 NHS and private patients every year. It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies.

The Royal Marsden, with the ICR, is the only National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre for Cancer. This supports pioneering research work carried out over a number of different cancer themes.

The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London borough of Sutton.

Since 2003, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity has funded the latest developments in cancer research, diagnosis, treatment and patient care. Over recent years, supporters of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity have funded facilities including the Oak Centre for Children and Young People, the da Vinci robots, the CyberKnife radiotherapy machine and the Reuben Foundation Imaging Centre.

HRH The Duke of Cambridge became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

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