Detecting cancer is now as easy as a blood test

  • Himani Chandna, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 15, 2016 08:48 IST
The Circulating Tumour Cell (CTC) technology is an innovation of the US-based Celsee Diagnostics and is used to detect cancers in the third and fourth stage (Burhaan Kinu / HT File)

Indian doctors will now be able to advanced-stage cancer cells in patients’ blood streams through a simple finger-prick test instead of conducting complicated biopsies.

The Circulating Tumour Cell (CTC) technology is an innovation of the US-based Celsee Diagnostics and is used to detect cancers in the third and fourth stage. It’s used for breast, prostate, colon and lung cancers and will soon include bladder, skin, pancreas and liver cancers.

“The test needs only 2-4 millilitres of blood, which is what’s collected for routine tests such as complete blood count, haemoglobin test etc, which makes it painless and easier compared to the surgical biopsy,” Kalyan Handique, president and chief executive officer, Celsee Diagnostics told HT over the phone. Since the results of CTC can be provided within few hours, patients can start treatment at once, he added.

The technology may soon be available at private diagnostic centres for Rs 17,000 to Rs 20,000, with the New York-based Star Health Network, which is working on behalf of Celsee, hoping to deploy it at all cancer hospitals in India. “Large pathology laboratory chains in India are also looking into acquiring the technology,” Jamal Naiyer, president and CEO at Star Health Network said. But the company has not yet started advertising the technology, said Sunil Wahal, Star’s operations director in India

Anish Maru, senior consultant at medical oncology, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, said, cost of conducting a biopsy ranges between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 depending on the cancer affected organs. “Till now, the alternative but an invasive technology available to avoid biopsy is fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC), a diagnostic procedure used to investigate lumps or masses under the skin. Finger prick test to detect cancer is breakthrough.”

Some oncologists, however, feel the CTC technology needs to be developed further before it can establish itself.

“The test is a useful tool that can be included in cancer treatment but needs further validation. In its current form, it cannot replace any of the established procedures being used for cancer detection and treatment, such as FNAC and biopsy,” said Dr Ashok K Vaid, chairman of medical oncology and haematology, Medanta.

FNAC involves taking out he tissue from the tumour using a fine needle for examination under a microscope, while a biopsy involves surgically removing a part of the tumour.

First adopters of CTC technology include the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute (RGCI) in Delhi, where it is a part of the treatment .”This technology helps in monitoring the response of our treatment on patient’s condition. Unlike other available technologies, it does not wait for cells to reach a certain size for detection,” said Moushumi Suryavanshi, head, centre for molecular diagnostics & cell biology, RGCI. However, she said RGCI, has not done away with the initial biopsy that is used to detect cancer. It is using the CTC technology as an alternative for successive biopsies that are needed to monitor the therapy’s progress.

In India, a 1 million new cases of cancer occur each year, with the disease causing close to 500,000 deaths annually, shows health ministry data.

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