Blood test could predict side effects of cancer radiation therapy



Posted on January 20, 2010 at 8:04 PM

There are now genetic tests that can predict which breast cancer patients will benefit from chemotherapy, or which lung cancer patients will respond to newer drugs. But when it comes to radiation therapy, there are still a lot of unknowns. Local researchers are trying to change that.

When Bill Davis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he had his choice of treatments,

"I chose radiation. I thought it would obviously be the lease invasive and at the same time, the quickest," said Davis.

But every choice has its drawbacks.

"Currently radiation therapy is typically dosed to patients as if everybody responded the same and yet we know from experience, clinical experience that that's not the case," said Dr. Kas Badiozamani, Virginia Mason.

Unfortunately, there's no way to predict who will experience bad side effects from radiation. Researchers are now working on a blood test that could someday provide the answers.

"This would then allow physicians, radiation oncologists treating cancer patient to better tailor their radiation therapy and minimize the side effects from radiation while maximizing the treatment for the tumor itself," said Dr. Mandy Paulovich, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The pilot study is a collaboration between Fred Hutchinson and Virginia Mason. Bill is one of the first patients.

"To me it seemed like a no brainer. I'm benefitting from everything that's gone on before me and hopefully they'll find something positive or even negative on the effects of the radiation on the blood they can use with patients coming after me," said Paulovich.

About two- thirds of all cancer patients will actually receive radiation at some point in the course of their illness and using a simple blood test in this way could also prove to be a potentially cost effective way of improving their care.

Bill knows he won't benefit directly from the study, but he's optimistic about his own prognosis.

"Number one, it's the second most prevalent cancer in men, second only to skin cancer and number two, they got it really early," he said.

The study has just begun to recruit volunteers. Researchers are looking for newly diagnosed patients with cancers of the prostate, lung, esophagus, rectum, head, neck and cervix.

The test was originally developed to detect individual radiation exposure from nuclear power plant leaks or from a dirty bomb.

For more information, visit