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Will Cancer Spread? New Test May Tell

Errant Protein Marks Tumors That Metastasize
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Predicting Cancer Spread continued...

The test won't tell doctors which treatment would work best. But in clinical studies of patients with liver cancer, the new test predicted cancer spread in patients with early stage II tumors and predicted that cancer would not spread within two to three years in patients with later stage III and stage IV tumors.

Lei Xu, PhD, a cancer researcher at the University of Rochester in New York, noted that the Loh team is still a long way from proving it has a test that doctors can use. But she said the thoroughness of the study is impressive and that the test shows great promise. Xu was not involved in the Loh study.

"Absolutely this test would be useful. Prediction of metastases is virtually impossible for most tumor types," Xu tells WebMD. "You don't know when metastasis starts. It can take decades. So if you had this kind of marker, you could know early on and do preventive clinical work to stop that from happening."

The finding that CPE-deltaN is crucial to cancer spread has another implication. If the protein or the broken gene that makes it could be neutralized, cancers might not spread. Indeed, when lab animals were implanted with tumors in which CPE-deltaN RNA had been blocked, the tumors did not spread.

Loh and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Hong Kong report their findings in the Feb. 1 online issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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