From the Bennington Banner, Jan 9, 2009
MARK E. RONDEAU
ADAMS, Mass. — A new technology meant to give those with advanced cancers a fighting chance has come to a private oncology
practice in the region.
The CellSearch Circulating Tumor Cell Test measures the number
of cancer cells in a patient's bloodstream. This test can give cancer patients and doctors a much faster and less invasive
way to determine if a course of treatment is working.
Berkshire Hematology Oncology, based in Pittsfield, is the
first private practice in a six-state region to offer patients this advanced diagnostic test. It is currently approved for
use with patients with breast, prostate and colorectal cancers that have spread from the original site.
"is the first commercially available test that allows us to measure and monitor the number of cancer cells that are circulating
in a patient's bloodstream," said Dr. Spyros Triantos, a partner in Berkshire Hematology Oncology. "This test
is so sensitive that it can literally detect one cancer cell among millions of blood cells."
shown that the number of tumor cells circulating in the blood can give an accurate prognosis for patients with advanced breast,
colorectal and prostate cancers, Triantos said.
The benefits of such a quick evaluation are obvious, Triantos
said. Soon after a patient starts treatment, such as an initial round of chemotherapy, measuring the number of circulating
tumor cells can quickly determine whether the patient is going to benefit from that treatment, he said.
the CellSearch technology, "we no longer have to wait for two or three months before knowing whether treatment is working.
The test now allows us to 'customize' treatment and make a decision to switch to an alternate therapy early on if
Until now, the ways doctors assessed whether treatments were working included blood tests called
tumor markers and CT, PET and MRI scans. But there are problems with these technologies.
It takes months for the
effects of treatments to show up on scans, and they are expensive and subject patients to radiation and dyes. Tumor markers
are often unreliable, Triantos said.
Dr. Paul Rosenthal, a partner in the oncology
practice, said that patients often ask him "how will I know the treatments are working?"
the test can be done rapidly and repeated frequently, providing "a vital, real-time snapshot of exactly what effect the
treatment is having."
"And what is also very exciting for me and other cancer researchers is how this
technology will in fact be used in the future regarding treatment decisions for patients with other types of ... cancers as
well as for patients with earlier stages of cancer."
Berkshire Hematology Oncology announced the availability
of the test at a press conference Thursday at North Adams Regional Hospital. Print and electronic media from the tri-state
Rosenthal said the CellSearch technology has been in the works for about 10 years, and a scientific
study first found the test to be feasible and verifiable in 2004.
The test is able to locate one circulating tumor
cell in the 40 billion cells contained a 7.5-milliliter blood sample, which is equivalent to a quarter of an ounce. The test
can be completed in about three hours.
A medical technologist conducts the test with equipment in a room at the
practice's office in the Ambulatory Care Center at North Adams Regional Hospital.
Until now, the test was
available to people in this area only at such academic research hospitals as Sloan-Kettering, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
and at the Yale Cancer Center, the doctors said.
The technology is not yet ready, or approved, to be used as a
screening test. In addition, Berkshire Hematology Oncology is not allowed to test the blood of cancer patients being treated
elsewhere, the doctors said.
Rosenthal said the practice draws patients not only from Berkshire County but from
Southern Vermont, New York and Connecticut.
The practice includes five oncologists and has an office in Great
Barrington in addition to its North Adams and Pittsfield sites.
In 2008, about 1,433,000 people were diagnosed
with cancer in the U.S. and almost one in four will deal with cancer in their lifetimes, Rosenthal said.