The blood test is so sensitive it can spot a single cancer cell among a billion healthy ones. Many doctors think stray cancer cells in the blood mean that a tumor has spread or is likely to spread.
With a $15 million grant, four big cancer centers will start studies this year using the experimental test, which could potentially transform care for many types of cancer.
Initially, doctors want to use the test on cancer patients to try to predict if treatments are working on their specific tumor. This is not a new concept since there is already an FDA-approved test for detection of circulating tumor cells in breast, colon and cancer patients.
One of the inventors of the test says it's "like a liquid biopsy." Dr. Daniel Haber of Massachusetts General says it can avoid the painful sampling of tissue. And he says it could be a better way of monitoring patients than periodic imaging scans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.