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Blood test might find a single cancer cell

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Erika Edwards, NBC News

An experimental blood test has the potential to sniff out a single rogue cancer cell lurking in the body. The test is so promising that Johnson and Johnson has signed on to help develop it for public use.

Even when surgery, chemotherapy and radiation effectively "cure" cancer patients, survivors often have lingering questions.

"Is someone truly cured? Or are there a few cells that 5 to 10 years later might come back and start to grow?" asks Dr. Roy Herbst of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

Dr. Herbst is one of many around the country scheduled to begin clinical trials on a blood test predicted to detect even a single cancer cell still circulating in the body after treatment. Cells that don't show up on typical follow-up imaging scans.

"You don't see a tumor on a CT scan until it's grown a certain size so this could be potentially more sensitive than imaging."

If the test proves to be successful, doctors say it has the potential to replace painful biopsies used now to check for cancer cells that have spread. It could also give doctors an early heads up on whether a treatment is working-- and a better understanding of what's causing tumors to grow.

"If we can do that, we can figure out what the Achilles heel is of that tumor so that we can personalize a therapy for any given patient."

Although its potential is great -- the blood test remains years away from public use. Clinical trials are expected to begin later this year.

Click HERE to learn more about the clinical trials.