A new diagnostic tool that targets genetic markers in human stools could significantly reduce deaths due to colon cancer. Ben Gruber reports.
It's a test that everyone dreads - a colonoscopy - where a tube is inserted into the rectum and up into large intestine in search for signs of cancer. According to Dr. Ike Akunyili, at the University of Miami, a colonoscopy is 90 percent effective in detecting polyps, that might later become deadly. He says early detection is key to preventing colon cancer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IKECHUKWU AKUNYILI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HAEMATOLOGY AND ONCOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "So you actually think that a lot of people would actually be excited to get screened for colon cancer, however you have to think about it this way, it's invasive, you have to put something through somebody's behind and lot of people don't like it." The fear associated with colonoscopy prevents many people from getting screened. As a consequence, colon cancer is one of the deadliest of all diseases.. But Dr. David Alquist of the Mayo Clinic says there's now a new option for colon cancer screening - it's called Cologaurd - and it identifies genetic markers for cancer in stool samples with 94 percent accuracy. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. DAVID ALQUIST, GASTROENTEROLOGIST, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "I think the availability of this test because of its high accuracy it becomes a legitimate front line test that patients or physicians or providers have the choice to use this as opposed to colonoscopy as a front line test." Unlike a colonoscopy, the begins in the privacy of a patient's bathroom where a stool sample is collected. .The sample is then sent to a lab in the mail. At the lab, an automated system analyses the stool for three genetic markers that indicate if any polyps are early stage tumours are present in the gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Akunyili says the new screening tool provides a new option for people who are scared of a colonoscopy.. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IKECHUKWU AKUNYILI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HAEMATOLOGY AND ONCOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "Because patients do not have to go through a procedure that is considered invasive it might increase uptake and make more people that are hesitant about getting screened get screened." And if more people are screened, Dr. David Alquist says fewer people will die from the disease. He says Cologaurd could have the same impact on colon cancer as the PAP SMEAR had on cervical cancer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. DAVID ALQUIST, GASTROENTEROLOGIST, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "Cervical cancer use to be the most common cancer in woman. When the PAP SMEAR was introduced it became a rare cancer in those woman that were screened. There is no reason why application of cologuard broadly in our population couldn't achieve the same thing for colon cancer. Our goal is to eradicate colon cancer." Dr. Alquist says the researchers are now expanding the test to include other forms of gastrointestinal cancer. Their ultimate goal he says, is to fine tune genetic testing to the point where doctors can effectively identify and prevent cancer -- before it has a chance to develop.