Over the past few decades, developments in the field of oncology have allowed physicians to detect cancer earlier, intervene sooner with more effective treatments, and to monitor cancer growth more efficiently. However, even with advancements in modern medicine, far too many individuals still suffer from cancer and live in fear of how this disease may ultimately affect their lives.

In the mid-2000’s, the Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) test was developed to monitor cancer in patients. It was designed to predict a more realistic outcome of their disease, and allow for more effective treatment choices. CTC tests for tumor cells in the body’s peripheral circulation. The information CTC provides has been useful in predicting the probability of metastasis from the original tumor site, mortality rates, and in directing treatment choices.[sup]1[/sup] As a naturopathic doctor, I have implemented CTC testing as part of my assessment of individuals with cancer to monitor their progress and the “in between” time when the patient is tumor free but fear they are not cancer free.

The CTC test is FDA approved for specific cancers and is just beginning to be understood for its full potential in cancer treatment therapies. A tumor will continually shed cells that end up in the body’s peripheral circulation. The tumor cell in circulation has a predicted life span of less than 24 hours.[sup]2[/sup] The most advanced CTC tests will differentiate between dead and live tumor cells, making it more plausible to successfully determine metastatic rates. However, not all CTC tests in development have the same testing methods. Current research shows the total number of CTC found does indicate probability in metastasis and mortality despite being a possible measurement of both live and minimal amount of ‘dead’ tumor cells.[sup]3[/sup]

After careful research, I have found a European lab that has developed the most sensitive and specific CTC test available. It is available at 10% of the total cost of US testing. Using this particular CTC test, I have been able to monitor the decline of CTC as patients use various cancer treatments. I use the test clinically as a method to monitor total treatment effectiveness and to alter the dosage of IV Vitamin C infusions, which I use routinely for adjunct cancer treatment.

I have found the CTC test very effective in use with patients who have finished their recommended course of conventional cancer treatments and are looking for alternative support. Naturopathic Doctors work on optimizing the immune system, and as part of that process I monitor the patient’s progress with a CTC test every 3 months. If the values increase, there are options such as increasing the dosage and frequency of IV Vitamin C treatments, increasing supplementation, altering diet, and follow-up consultations with a patient’s oncologist for further assessment.

The CTC test has begun to fill the clinical gap from when a patient’s treatment is complete to when a new tumor becomes visible by diagnostic imaging. This is crucial because, while cancer patients are closely monitored by their oncologists and internists with scans and other blood tests, often these tests are only positive when a tumor has grown to a visually detectable size. At this stage the body is less able to fight its growth. The CTC test detects increases in circulating tumor cells before an imaging scan can detect a metastasis. It can find tumors faster, so to speak, and a smaller tumor is an easier tumor to treat.

The use and prevalence of CTC testing will continually evolve, improving over time. Meanwhile, this test currently has a place in an adjunct treatment approach, monitoring treatment progress and predicting the potential for tumor growth more accurately.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a Naturopathic Doctor at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568-2598.

Reference: 1) Cohen SJ, Punt CJ, Et Al. “Relationship of circulating tumor cells to tumor response, progression-free survival, and overall survival in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer”, Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008 Jul 1;26(19):3213-21. 2) Kevin Halling, MD, PhD, Michael Campion (2011) Circulating Tumor Cells and the CellSearchAssay (Lecture Notes) Rochester, Minnesota: Divisions of Laboratory Genetics and Anatomic Pathology, Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology, Mayo Clinic. 3) Mayo Clinic, (2011). Circulating Tumor Cells (CTC) for Breast Cancer by CellSearch, Blood. Retrieved from http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/89089

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