A blood test created at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab at Baylor may be able to detect colon cancer before it develops.
The blood-based test examines the levels of a single microRNA, a small RNA molecule that can be identified in a wide variety of bodily fluids, including blood.
Test results of the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, show that the blood test can fairly accurately detect cancer-related microRNA in the blood before a tumor develops in the colon.
In this seminal study the investigators studied several hundred patients with colorectal polyps and cancers and reported that measuring levels of miR-21 in the blood can accurately identify up to 92 percent of patients with colorectal cancer.
It can also accurately identify up to 82 percent of patients with advanced colonic polyps, which present the highest risk for developing into colorectal cancers several years later in life.
“No one out there is doing anything like this,” said Ajay Goel, director of Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at Baylor Research Institute.
This development is important because of the high mortality rates linked to colorectal cancer that are often a consequence of late detection, Goel said. If detected early this cancer can usually be treated, but often it isn’t found until it is in late stages.
Currently, colorectal cancer can be hard to detect early on because patients are only recommended to have a colonoscopy once every five years after the age of 50. Sometimes, Goel said, this means cancer can develop in between testing, and sometimes patients don’t bother to be tested until there is a problem and cancer has already developed.
He continued to say that patients would be more likely to have a blood test done, and the procedure would also be much more cost effective for both the patient and healthcare system.
There is more testing that needs to be done before the blood-based test is used on the general public, but Goel said he is hopeful for consistent results.