Testing for Tumor Mutations: Liquid Biopsy Versus Traditional Biopsy


Liquid biopsies, virtually unknown even a year or two ago, are becoming common tools in precision diagnostics for cancer. Here, I will try to explain some of the more important differences between liquid and “traditional” tumor biopsies.

Biopsies of solid tumors (e.g., lung, breast, or brain tumors) involve surgically removing a small part of a tumor and sending it to pathology lab. In the last few years, doctors have also started to send some tumor samples to special service labs that analyze tumor DNA for the presence of cancer-related mutations.

By definition, regular biopsies can be intrusive and are sometimes associated with side effects, such as bleeding or infection. However, they provide some really essential information; i.e., the histology and grade of the tumor and other tumor characteristics necessary to determine the best choice of treatment. For lung cancer, for example, a biopsy determines the type of tumor—adenocarcinoma, squamous cancer, small-cell lung cancer, or another, less common type. For breast cancer, a routine test will determine if the tumor expresses estrogen, progesterone receptors, and a protein called HER2. These tests are critically important in guiding treatment choices. If mutational analysis of cancer-related genes is also performed (which doesn’t always happen, unfortunately), it may guide treatment with targeted drugs. Continue reading…


Cancer Commons Community Member Spotlight: Brit d’Arbeloff


One of Cancer Commons’ earliest and most generous supporters, Brit d’Arbeloff, is a woman of many talents who is dedicated to excellence in education. She is the first woman to earn an undergraduate mechanical engineering degree at Stanford University. In addition, she was the owner of a fashion boutique in Boston for over a decade. She also earned a graduate degree at MIT, where Marty Tenenbaum, founder and CEO of Cancer Commons, is also an alum, and where the two first met.

“The work being done by Cancer Commons is extremely important,” says Brit, whose late husband Alex was diagnosed with glioblastoma. “Cancer is not one disease but a multitude of them, and the number of treatment options using various combinations of drugs and therapies is increasing rapidly. The result is a data problem that Cancer Commons is uniquely prepared to solve with its highly qualified and experienced team of computer scientists and cancer experts.” Continue reading…