What is normal? Who decides? How are method interferences detected? Is this a true result or the result of a pre-analytic error? These questions are ones clinical laboratory professionals ponder daily. Countless hours are spent validating existing reference intervals, establishing new ones, and correlating methods to ensure comparable test results day in and day out. Laboratorians interpret routine laboratory tests based on reference intervals derived from a healthy population representative of the demographic being tested. However, how does this work when the population being tested is not adequately represented, such as cancer patients?

With advancements in cancer treatment, including immunotherapies, not only are patients living longer, but many of these treatments directly impact laboratory results and ultimately result interpretation. Understanding the unique nature of this growing patient population is acutely recognized at cancer institutions around the world, but may not be as obvious to laboratory scientists serving a more general patient population.

In a short course this afternoon, “The Cancer Patient: Challenges in Interpretation of Routine Laboratory,” attendees will interact with a panel of experts from two of the leading cancer institutes in the world, including Melissa Pessin, MD, PhD and Lakshmi Ramanathan, PhD from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and Elizabeth Wagar, MD from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The course will be in presented in three parts. First, Ramanathan will discuss specific tests used in cancer medicine, challenges encountered in the effort to standardize tumor marker assays, and interferences related to specific methodologies. Next, Wagar will provide insight into how cancer therapies can affect routine laboratory testing, with particular emphasis on serologic analyses. Finally, Pessin will present information related to inherent pre-analytical errors associated with cancer patient specimens and how these errors can be detected.

After attending this course one should expect to appreciate the complexity of interpreting laboratory tests in the context of these very sick patients. The goal is to provide an appropriate perspective for both the laboratory scientist as well as the treating physician, as both play a vital role in diagnosing, treating, and monitoring patients with cancer.