Currently in the U.S., colorectal cancer (a term that applies to both colon and rectal cancer) ranks as the third most commonly diagnosed form of the disease in both men and women. In 2013 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that 102,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed, while 40,000 new patients will receive a rectal cancer diagnoses. Overall, a person’s risk of developing a form of colorectal cancer is approximately one in 20, with women being at a slightly lower risk than men.
Not surprising considering the prevalence of it’s diagnoses, colorectal cancer ranks as the third leading cause of death related to cancer in the U.S. when the sexes are considered separately, but the second leading cause of death when men and women are combined. The ACS forecasts that approximately 51,000 Americans will die due to the disease in 2013 alone.
Fortunately, over the last 20 years the number of men and women who have died due to the disease has dropped dramatically. A number of reasons exists that help explain this decrease, including better screening techniques and advances in surgical techniques that allow doctors to remove precancerous polyps. Thanks to these advances, the U.S. now has over 1 million colorectal cancer survivors living today.
Now researchers may have discovered another diagnostic technique that could save even more lives from colon cancer. Researchers at the Baylor Research Institute in Dallas believe that a simple blood test could be all that’s need to spot colorectal cancer during the disease’s early, more treatable stage.
Researchers in the Institute’s gastrointestinal cancer research lab have found that by checking a patient’s miR-21 levels, a component of DNA referred to as microRNA, they could determine a patient’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.
By collecting blood samples from hundreds of patients who had either noncancerous polyp growths or fully developed cancer, researchers discovered they were able to accurately spot 92 percent of the patients who had developed colorectal cancer based on a patient’s miR-21 levels. Furthermore, the test also proved 82 percent accurate when diagnosing patients with advanced polyps, a type of growth that increases an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Researchers are optimistic that not only could this new means of testing help to save thousands of lives annually, but also millions of dollars in medical costs.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Less Invasive Alternative
When it comes to cancer screening procedures, colonoscopies rank in the eyes of many as the gold standard in testing methods. However, despite the effectiveness of the procedure, less than half of Americans who qualify undergo needed screenings. Doctors have long blamed the invasive and embarrassing nature of colonoscopies as the reason why many patients neglect to undergo this important, potentially lifesaving exam.
Researchers now remain cautiously optimistic that a less invasive and potentially uncomfortable blood test will breakdown the barriers that have kept many from undergoing testing. If more patients begin to take advantage of an easier testing method, doctors hope that science has taken society one step closer to significantly reducing the risks of this dangerous disease.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Jeromy Dixson, a dentist in Longview, WA.