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Counting cells in blood samples may predict cancer treatment's effectiveness

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Counting the amount of a type of normal cell circulating in the blood of people with cancer could predict whether a tumor progresses or responds to therapy, a new study led by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has found. The finding could give doctors an early indication of whether a treatment will be successful, sparing patients months of an ineffective therapy.

Researchers looked at the number of endothelial cells normal cells lining the blood vessels that were circulating in the blood of people with sarcoma. Previous studies have shown that higher levels of circulating endothelial cells are found in people with cancer compared to people who are cancer-free. In this study, researchers found patients whose cancer grew after two months of treatment had high levels of circulating endothelial cells before beginning therapy, while patients whose cancer remained stable had low levels of these cells.

"This test can be used to predict the patient's outcome and survival. In addition, there are a number of drugs available in the clinic, and it may be possible to use this test to monitor the effectiveness of a drug in an individual patient," says Laurence Baker, D.O., professor of internal medicine and pharmacology at the University of Michigan Medical School. Baker will present the study results Saturday, May 14, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Circulating endothelial cells are the target of new anti-angiogenesis drugs, which are designed to inhibit the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. Angiogenesis, the natural process of blood vessel formation, is believed to contribute to the growth and development of cancer cells.

In this multicenter trial, researchers took blood samples from 88 people with advanced sarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissues, and analyzed it to determine the number of endothelial cells circulating in the blood. Angiogenesis inhibito
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