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New cancer screening first of its kind in area 

From the Bennington Banner, Jan 9, 2009
 
MARK E. RONDEAU
Staff Writer 
NORTH 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.

Measures cells

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.

CellSearch "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."

Studies have 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.

Using 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 necessary."

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.

Real-time snapshot

Dr. Paul Rosenthal, a partner in the oncology practice, said that patients often ask him "how will I know the treatments are working?"

Rosenthal said 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 region attended.

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. 


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Dr. Spyros Triantos, a partner in Berkshire Oncology Hematology, announces the new test at the press conference at North Adams Regional Hospital. (Mark E. Rondeau)

 

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Dr. Paul Rosenthal, another partner in the practice, speaks about the CellSearch CTC test.

 

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Medical Technician Lauren Wick describes how the test is conducted.

 

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Mark Rondeau - Writer, Editor, Photographer