New Colon Cancer Screening Tests in Research & Development Stages
In the October 28th issue of The New York Times, it was reported that there are two new tests on the horizon that could test for colon cancer by way of DNA screening instead of via colonoscopy. If you've ever had a colonoscopy, then you know that the test itself isn't too bad, but the preparation you have to do the night before is anything but pleasant. Because of this unpleasantness, as well as the time off work that has to be taken to get the colonoscopy done, far fewer people are following through with proper colon cancer screening than the medical community suggests, meaning, many colon cancers are either not being diagnosed or are being diagnosed in later stages when they are much less curable.
If the tests discussed here are proven reliable and made available to the public, they should help lead to easier and possibly earlier detection of colon cancer and perhaps prevent colon cancer altogether. These DNA tests could also eliminate the need for most colon cancer screening colonoscopies for people aged 50 and over. And, it is also thought that the cost of these tests would be well below the current costs for a colonoscopy.
Exact Sciences in Wisconsin is developing one of the tests. Their test examines stool samples, looking at four particular genes. If the genes are seen in an altered state it could suggest colon cancer and then a colonoscopy, which includes tissue biopsies and polyp removal, could be suggested. It is believed that this test could detect precancerous and cancerous tumors in their earliest stages, allowing them to be removed when the cancer is most curable.
Epigenomics AG out of Germany is the second company developing a new colon cancer test. At this time I could not find specific information on their test, but it will use blood to look for abnormalities in one specific gene - Septin 9.
Both tests are still in research, although Exact Sciences is planning to complete a trial with several thousand patients by the end of 2012. If the trial for the stool test goes as expected and the company can gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then the test could be made available to the public by 2013.
As more information on these tests becomes available I'll be sure to keep you updated. In the meantime, if you already have a history of IBD - Inflammatory Bowel Disease - and are over 40 years old, be sure to discuss with your doctor at what age you should begin having colon cancer screening biopsies. Some doctors suggest having a colonoscopy as often as every other year 20 years after first being diagnosed with IBD. For those without a history of IBD you should have your first colonoscopy at the age of 50. When detected early, colon cancer is one of the more curable cancers. So, it is worth the inconvenience to have the screening done on schedule.