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Blood test may one day replace colonoscopy

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Colonoscopy is the much dreaded procedure recommended for everyone over the age of 50 in order to detect colon cancer. The procedure typically requires a period of fasting and the ingestion of laxatives before an uncomfortable examination. Now - a blood test may soon replace the need for such an unpopular diagnostic test.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, the future of colorectal cancer screening may lie in the development of biomarkers for the disease.

Alterations of a certain gene could discriminate pretty accurately between blood samples from people with cancer and blood samples from people without cancer. Experts say that the blood test findings, while "not quite ready for prime time," are promising.

This research was conducted in South Korea associated with Genomictree Inc. and Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul.

"Based on the data they presented, it looks really good," Chhavi Chauhan, the journal's scientific editor says. "But to turn this into a diagnostic test available to everyone, the research has to be duplicated by others and with more numbers."

The researcher's relatively simple blood test detected cancer correctly 87 percent of the time and was right about those without cancer about 95 percent of the time. When they looked only at stage I developments of the disease, the test caught the cancer 92 percent of the time.

While still in early stages, this kind of research is "very exciting," Dr. Eric Esrailian, co-chief of the division of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine says.

Other scientists are simultaneously trying to determine whether an older, less invasive test is as good as a colonoscopy when it comes to a first screening. While it must be noted that colonoscopies are credited with reducing deaths from colorectal cancer, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch says there is still no indication that the tests actually save more lives than a lower tech, less invasive alternative: the stool test.

Colonoscopy became much more popular than the alternative simply because "the basic idea of it was so appealing," Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice says. "It was being used as the follow-up test for the [stool] test. And the idea was, 'Wow if we do this as a follow-up test, maybe we could just do it on everyone'."

There have been no studies previously published that compare the two methods head-to-head in terms of the number of lives that could be saved.

The notion supporting an annual stool test is to winnow down the pool of people who end up needing a colonoscopy. Testing positive on a stool test doesn't necessarily mean you have colon cancer, but it does mean you're at much greater risk.

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