Stool-Based Colon Cancer Test Shows Promise

Squeamish about your upcoming colonoscopy? A new technology may change the way doctors can look for colon cancer, and it may provide an alternative to this procedure.

A procedure that looks for cancer cells in a patient's stool has shown promise in an early study of screening tools. If future studies further prove that colon cancer can be detected successfully with this test, it may add an alternative to colonoscopies for cancer detection.

During the development of colorectal cancer, genetic changes occur in the cells that line the colon and rectum. Colonoscopies use a scope to directly look for tumors and other abnormalities in the colon, often sampling tissues for further study under the microscope, looking for these abnormal or clearly cancerous cells. But these mutated cells also get into feces, as they are scraped off the wall of the bowel as food matter passes. So, this new test, called stool DNA testing, looks directly at a patient's feces for signs of cancer.

Previous studies have shown some merit of stool-based colon cancer screening, but for the first time, this procedure has proven to have a high success rate for detecting cancer.

The study, published in the medical journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, looked as 162 patients, including 40 with colon cancer and 122 with a normal colonoscopy. Using the stool DNA testing, researchers accurately detected 88 percent of the patients with colon cancer.

"This study confirms that stool-based DNA technologies can achieve high sensitivities for detecting colorectal cancer," said Dr. Steven Itzkowitz, study author and associate director of gastroenterology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Unless you are at an increased risk due to a particular disorder or family history of the disease, it is recommended that colon cancer screening begin at age 50. But a recent survey by the National Cancer Institute revealed that more than half of the 80 million people over this age have never been screened. So, researchers hope that this noninvasive option to a colonoscopy will enable more patients to be screened.

"For patients who are unwilling or unable to undergo colonoscopy, stool DNA testing offers a valuable and patient-friendly screening option," said Itzkowitz.

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