Cancerous tumors are formidable enemies, recruiting blood vessels to aid their voracious growth, damaging nearby tissues, and deploying numerous strategies to evade the body’s defense systems. But even more malicious are the circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that tumors release, which travel stealthily through the bloodstream and take up residence in other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis. While dangerous, their presence is also a valuable indicator of the stage of a patient’s disease, making CTCs an attractive new approach to cancer diagnostics. Unfortunately, finding the relative handful of CTCs among the trillions of healthy blood cells in the human body is like playing the ultimate game of needle-in-a-haystack: CTCs can make up as few as one in ten thousand of the cells in the blood of a cancer patient. This is made even more difficult by the lack of broad-spectrum CTC capture agents, as the most commonly used antibodies fail to recognize many types of cancer cells.
Dr. Stegall’s Comments: Circulating tumor cells are a major player in the growth and spread of cancer. The ability to measure and target these cells has been a weakness in conventional oncology for many years. In contrast, I perform lab testing on all new patients in my office to measure these circulating tumor cells. The lab I use, the Research Genetic Cancer Centre in Greece, performs an in-depth analysis on these circulating tumor cells, resulting in a specific genetic fingerprint for each patient’s cancer cells. These genetic characteristics help us identify the ways in which each patient–and his or her cancer–are unique. Then, these circulating tumor cells are subjected to a wide variety of agents, including chemotherapy as well as nutritional supplements, to establish a kill rate for each. This lab testing allows us to better personalize treatment, thus using those treatments which we feel are likely to be most effective for each patient. This is integrative oncology in action!