A new blood test created at Baylor Research Institute detects colon cancer before it develops and could significantly reduce the need for colonoscopies, the study's lead author told me in an interview.
The highly sensitive test detects cancer-related microRNA in blood of patients even before the development of colorectal cancer, said Ajay Goel, director of Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at Baylor Research Institute.
The development of this biomarker is promising because late detection of colorectal cancer results in higher mortality rates, Goel said.
”This test could be transformative in how we screen patients for colorectal cancer," Goel said.
About 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year in the United States, he said. More than 10 million people get colonoscopies each year, adding up to more than $10 billion in annual costs, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates.
The relatively simple blood-based test examines the levels of a small RNA molecule that can be readily identified in bodily fluids including blood, Goel said. Blood testing is far less expensive and less invasive than colonoscopies, Goel said.
The investigators studied several hundred patients with colorectal polyps and cancers and reported that measuring levels of the molecule in the blood can accurately identify 92 percent of patients with colorectal cancer, Goel said. The test can accurately identify 82 percent of patients with advanced colonic polyps, which present the highest risk for developing into colorectal cancers several years later in life, he said.
Further testing is needed to improve the accuracy, and the test needs FDA approval before being put to use in clinics, Goel said. He said Baylor will seek a partner to license, further develop and commercialize the test.