A new approach to cancer diagnosis

Liquid biopsies may offer a less invasive alternative than a traditional biopsy.

Image: © fotoquique/Getty Images

A tissue biopsy is the standard test for identifying cancer. Your medical team will use needles or other devices to capture pieces of actual tumor to see if it's malignant or benign. But another approach, called a liquid biopsy, is less invasive and may provide a diagnosis when a biopsy doesn't.

This test uses a person's blood to look for signs of cells or mutated DNA that a tumor has shed into the bloodstream. "By sampling DNA or circulating tumor cells in the blood, we can predict and monitor responses to cancer treatments without subjecting patients to invasive biopsy procedures — and perhaps detect cancer early, before it has had a chance to spread," says Dr. David Miyamoto, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School.

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