A relatively new arrival on the cancer scene is a test called the circulating cancer cell test. Many of the major labs and hospital cancer cells are able to run the test, including Quest Diagnostics, which has named this test as the Cell Search test. Just like the PSA test, it is a blood test. The laboratory simply draws a tube of blood which is run through a machine called a flow cytometer, after which cells that contain a cancer-related proteins are detected and counted.
The circulating cancer cell test has not been shown to be able to detect cancer earlier than standard methods, but it has been shown to be able to monitor the response of known cancers to treatments.
The original research with the circulating cancer cell test was done on women with advanced breast cancer who were receiving chemotherapy. It was found that the women who had better responses to their treatments also had lower levels of circulating cancer cell counts. Conversely, those women who were not responding to treatment did not have a lower number of circulating cells in their blood.
The beauty of the test is that it provides a way reduce the time we need to spend on receiving inactive, unsuccessful, and very expensive types of treatments that may be producing lots of side effects but gives no benefit. Using this test appropriately can save money, and save our