Colon cancer spotted by blood test
June 7th, 2013
01:30 PM ET

Colon cancer spotted by blood test

For the field of cancer research, a reliable blood test for colorectal cancer would be a revelation. Currently, the condition is diagnosed through stool blood tests and uncomfortable colonoscopies, but the dream is to be able to find genetic markers predictive of such cancers in order to intervene early or follow patients in their treatment.

A study published Friday in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics suggests that a blood test for colon cancer could be on the horizon. But the research is still preliminary and the test is not currently recommended as a screening tool, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 20, and men are slightly more likely to get it than women, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2013, it is expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths.

The study

Researchers at Genomictree, Inc., and the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, first went on a "search mission" to find genes that could be related to colorectal cancer tissue, Lichtenfeld said. They compared tumor tissue samples from patients to non-tumor tissue, and identified candidate genes that could be markers for colon cancer. They focused on one for further investigation, a marker called SDC2.

Then, scientists took blood samples from 12 colon cancer patients with various stages of cancer, to look for that gene. They found that this gene was present, and could be detected, in the patients' blood. In these patients, the gene was predictive for colon cancer.

Bigger picture

The ultimate goal of this line of research is to find a blood test that would either find cancer early or help doctors follow patients in their treatment to see how it's working, Lichtenfeld said.

This research shows that this particular gene may be a marker that could be useful in either following colon cancer patients, or potentially defining colon cancer early and saving lives, he said.

Ultimately, however, doctors want to be able to identify a lesion before it becomes cancerous, Lichtenfeld said. The authors of this study not claim that this blood test will do that.

It's unknown whether this particular test would find colon cancer early enough to save lives or prevent people from developing the disease, Lichtenfeld said. More research needs to be done.

Other candidates

This isn't the only potential marker for colon cancer that a blood test could pick up. There are other genes that other research groups are looking at, too.

Study authors wrote that their findings are similar to those of the SEPT9 test for colorectal cancer. SEPT9 is a gene that has also been correlated with the condition. A 2011 study in the journal BMC Medicine showed the potential for that gene to serve as a marker in a blood test for colorectal cancer - but this research is not definitive either.

"No reputable organization is recommending that either of these tests be used as screening test for colon cancer," Lichtenfeld said.

The SEPT9 test is being marketed with claims that it could replace a colonoscopy, but the American Cancer Society does not recommend it at this time, Lichtenfeld said.

soundoff (799 Responses)
  1. Fiona

    Great news, but won't some sort of colon exam or scan still be required for polyps?

    There should be a blood test for ovarian cancer, and I think there would be if the disease affected men. Women's diseases were considered less important for so long that research on them is lagging behind, as is funding for studies and r&d.

    June 8, 2013 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SG

      There is at least one FDA approved blood-based test (combines four biomarkers in an algorithm) to evaluate ovarian mass for malignancy. Check out Ova1 by Vermillion. http://ova-1.com/

      June 9, 2013 at 10:30 | Report abuse |
  2. The Moogly

    Colonoscopies detect and remove precancerous polyps. I'll take the prevention rather than the cure. Colonoscopies are virtually painless. Just before my anesthesiologist did her thing I told her, "If you find Jimmy Hoffa, we split the reward." The next thing I remember was opening my eyes to see my wife standing next to the gurney. That was a hell of alot easier than the 6 days I spent in the hospital when they removed my cancerous kidney. I'll take the prevention rather than the cure anytime.

    June 8, 2013 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • myslant


      June 10, 2013 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
    • myslant

      Many people find the preparation for a colonoscopy intolerable. If you are not a large person, it is virtually impossible to drink the required volumn of the liquid preparation, not to mention the offensive taste. My brother attempted to drink the fluid and vomited even before consuming a quarter of the required amount. And then there is the severe cramps and the watery stool. It is no wonder that many people avoid having a colonoscopy. The good news is that a virtual colonscopy using a program that "sees through" fecal matter in the colon is presently in the stage of development. No preparation is necessary. No insertion of a colonoscope is required either unless a polp is discovered. If a polp is discovered, a colonoscope is required to excise the polp.

      June 10, 2013 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • birch please

      With a 1/20 risk it can save my life and years of suffering but I cant drink the funny tasting Gatorade and have the squirts for a day..... really? Wow some people are babies

      June 10, 2013 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
    • myslant

      @ birch please

      You should really grow up! You are probably an overweight individual who normally consumes large amounts of beverages. Individuals who are of normal weight with normal stomachs simply can't down the required volume of fluid, not even considering the issue of taste. Get it!

      June 10, 2013 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
    • karen

      after watching what my mom went through getting 6 inches of her colon removed because of cancer. I had the dreaded colonoscopy last year at the age of 50. Yes its a pain in the a** but its worth it. Yes the prep is nauseating. I am a pewker but this didn't have that affect on me. I drank loads of liquids and made it through. I also wore a 'sea band' to prevent upset stomach. I'm a relatively small person of 130 lbs. The worse part for me was the polop removal , 3 in my case which were pre-cancerous. This test is something I have to have again in 2 years. Yippie. But its worth it.

      June 11, 2013 at 06:50 | Report abuse |
  3. myreply

    Does this also help anyone with a family history of colon cancer? Early detection and prevention are the best, including a diet with lots of fiber, fresh foods, and low consumption of flesh food/meat. Daily exercise is a must too!

    June 9, 2013 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • karen

      Both my mom and her brother had colon cancer, and survived. They both had stage 1. Read my comment. procedure is well worth the inconvenience!

      June 11, 2013 at 06:53 | Report abuse |
  4. metoo

    Having lost my mother and grandmother to colon cancer, my Aunt having her colon totally removed and having the Dr find polyps in my last 4 scopes, my Dr. recommended a blood test. That is before he knew the test would cost $3,000. and of course insurance doesn't cover any part of it. So the YEARLY scope is my only choice. But it would be nice to know for sure before developing cancer so the next generation can be properly educated and prepared to start their life of scopes earlier and not the recommended age 50-60.

    June 9, 2013 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Fish

    One of the benefits of the wars are the medical breakthroughs, one of which is a blood test for the enzymes released from dead tissues like those from TBI patients which can be used to identify a stroke I've read. This could be extremely advantageous in the future.

    June 9, 2013 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Survivor

    Just because they found a "blood test" does not mean that it is anyway a preventative measure to colon cancer. I had my colon removed because I had too many polyps and they were all precancerous as I have a gene that predisposes me to colon cancer. This was found out through a DNA test. However, just because they took out my colon as a preventative measure doesn't mean that I wouldn't get cancer somewhere else. I survived stage three stomach cancer and stage one liver cancer both with the help a colonoscopy and endoscopy and chemo. I don't believe in blood tests as a preventative measure. Bite the bullet go to sleep and have a flipping colonoscopy done and endoscopy, it may save your life. I do however believe in DNA testing for FAP gene or other's that may be hereditary.

    June 10, 2013 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Gill

    The only true test for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. This issue is unfortunately too close to my heart. I lost a loved one to colon cancer. The doctor gave him every test in the book before a colonoscopy. When the doctor FINALL gave him a colonoscopy, it was too late. But it was the one test that showed that he did have cancer, every other test came out negative. If you think you may be at risk or if you are in your late 40's or 50's, NOW is the time to go and ask your doctor to have a colonoscopy done. DEMAND IT if you have too. DO NOT let a doctor tell you that he or she does not think you need it. If caught early, this is one of the most treatable cancers but the only true detection is the colonoscopy. I cannot stress this enough.

    June 10, 2013 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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