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New study could make colon cancer screening a little easier

Mar 14, 2024, 7:41 PM

Image: This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Rese...

This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research in 2015 shows human colon cancer cells with the nuclei stained red. (Image courtesy of NCI Center for Cancer Research via AP)

(Image courtesy of NCI Center for Cancer Research via AP)

A new study may make colon cancer screenings a little easier for everyone.

Dr. William Grady, a gastroenterologist at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, is among those who studied the effectiveness of a blood test.

“We studied over 20,000 people and we found that the blood-based test can detect 83% of people who have colon cancer,” Grady said.

He said that’s as effective as at-home stool tests, which he said people often fail to follow through on.

“About half of people who we recommend get screened, aren’t doing that,” he said.

The reason why is something Grady calls the “ick factor.”

“Most people don’t want to deal with their stool,” he said.

Blood test gives another option for screening colon cancer

Grady still calls a colonoscopy the gold standard for cancer detection. But a blood test would give another option to people who are at average risk for colon cancer and are reticent to do an at-home stool test.

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He credits advances in DNA sequencing and artificial intelligence for making blood screening possible.

“We now have an ability to detect the rare tumor DNA molecules that are present in the blood,” he said.

Think of it as high-tech cancer sleuthing.

“We can look at thousands of molecular features in the DNA that’s present in the blood, and by looking at those thousands of features and using AI we can identify signatures in the DNA that’s unique to cancers, versus normal cells,” Grady explained.

Grady said blood screening — for colon cancer — is already available.

Future of the blood test and colon cancer

He said government regulators will be reviewing the new study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, as they decide whether the blood test should be covered by insurance.

“This study is pivotal for the FDA to be able to make that decision. The study was large enough to where we can accurately determine how well the test worked for colon cancer screening,” Grady said.

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Screening, Grady said, is imperative as colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in American adults. And the risk appears to be increasing.

“We predict in the next five years that colon cancer will be the most common cancer that occurs in people under the age of 50,” he said.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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