The future of colorectal cancer screening? It might be in your DNA

March 3, 2015 | by Denise Heady

We’ve all heard the mantra: Cancer screening saves lives. And it does, especially with colorectal cancer.

DNA tests for colorectal cancer A new colorectal screening that tests stool for DNA may persuade some colonoscopy-phobic people to be screened. It doesn't detect all polyps, but as Dr. James Lin points out: "The best colon cancer screening test is the one the patient is using."

Regular colonoscopies have been proven to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer death by up to 70 percent. Screening for colorectal cancer using the even simpler fecal occult blood tests has been found to reduce the risk of death by up to 33 percent.

Yet, despite the proven benefits of colorectal cancer screening, many people still put it off – or skip it altogether. To raise awareness of the very real need for colorectal cancer screening, March has been deemed Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 132,700 new cases of colorectal cancer in the United States this year and that approximately 49,700 patients will die from this disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends that adults begin colorectal cancer screening at age 50 and continue until they are 75 years old. Depending on which test is used, screening only need happen as little as once every 10 years.

New screening and prevention tools for colorectal cancer continue to evolve. In August of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new DNA stool test that can be used to screen for colorectal cancer.

James Lin, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of gastroenterology at City of Hope, told WebMD that this new test, known as Cologuard, is "another weapon in our arsenal for colon cancer screening."

The test has shown to detect up to 92 percent of colon cancers, but only 42 percent of polyps.

Despite this, Lin is open to the test, saying that some patients who avoid colonoscopies may agree to the new test. "Ultimately the best colon cancer screening test is the one the patient is using," he said.

City of Hope is now able to offer this screening option to patients, which can be done in the comfort of a patient’s own home. This type of test is ideal for patients who need to be screened for colon cancer, but are unable to or unwilling to have a colonoscopy.

If the DNA test comes back positive then the patient will be required to undergo a colonoscopy. If it comes back negative, then the patient wouldn’t need another test for three years.

The most important fact to remember about colorectal cancer, however, is that it is very treatable and highly curable if detected early.

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Learn more about colorectal cancer research and colorectal cancer treatment at City of Hope.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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