A new genetic discovery could lead to easier detection of colorectal cancer, Forbes reports. Researchers in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S. have identified a genetic biomarker that correctly detects the presence of colorectal cancer more than half the time.
The study, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was based on the assumption that a cancerous tumor would shed cells into the stool. Researchers compared healthy stool samples with those that contained colorectal cancer cells, and identified a genetic marker that indicated the disease in 53 percent of colorectal cancer cases. The scientists singled out N-Myc downstream-regulated gene 4 (NDRG4) as a tumor suppressor and biomarker.
Forbes notes that while 53 percent may seem like a significant result, it’s actually no more effective than current screening methods. However, the new discovery points to molecular testing as the future of colorectal screening. Many patients, put off by the discomfort of colonoscopies (and the accompanying prep routine, which can be more unpleasant than the colonoscopy itself), may avoid them altogether. Patients might be more likely to go in for genetic testing, which is cheaper and less uncomfortable. Genetic testing could also help mitigate the growing shortage of gastroenterologists in the U.S.
According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. It is expected to cause an estimated 49,920 deaths this year. Colorectal cancer is easier to cure in its early stages, creating a clinical need for effective diagnostic tests. Some companies developing diagnostic screenings for colorectal cancer include EXACT Sciences Corporation, Quidel Corporation, DiagnoCure, NorDiag, Targeted Diagnostics and Therapeutics, and Poniard Pharmaceuticals.