Imagine a world where we can catch the early signs of colon cancer more accurately, giving people a much better chance of beating the disease.
That’s the promise of a new stool test developed by researchers in the Netherlands.
It’s designed to pick up on precursors to colorectal cancer—basically, early warning signs—better than the test most commonly used today. This could mean fewer new cases of the disease and fewer deaths.
Colorectal cancer is a major health challenge globally, with nearly 1.9 million people diagnosed each year. Sadly, about 935,000 people die from it annually.
Catching the disease early is key to beating it, but often, by the time symptoms like weight loss or blood in the stool show up, it’s already quite advanced.
This is why many countries run screening programs, inviting people, often between the ages of 55 and 75, to get tested regularly.
The most common test used in these screening programs looks for a blood protein called hemoglobin in the stool. It’s been quite effective in finding cancer early and saving lives. However, researchers believe we can do even better.
The team from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, along with colleagues from Amsterdam UMC and Erasmus MC, have been developing an improved test.
Their new version, called the multitargetFIT-test (mtFIT), still looks for hemoglobin but also checks for two other proteins.
This makes it better at finding precancerous conditions—growth called polyps that can turn into cancer if they’re not removed in time.
In a recent study involving over 13,000 people, the new test proved its worth. It found more cases of these dangerous polyps than the current test, meaning it could potentially prevent more cases of colorectal cancer and save more lives.
Importantly, for those taking the test, it’s just as easy to use as the one we have now.
One of the big advantages of the new test is that it gives more accurate results. While it does lead to more colonoscopies, these procedures are more likely to find actual problems.
In the study, abnormalities were found in nearly twice as many people with the new test compared to the current one. And it did this without a big increase in false alarms that could lead to unnecessary procedures.
The impact of this new test could vary from country to country, depending on how they currently use the existing test.
In the Netherlands, for example, the new test could reduce the number of new colorectal cancer cases by 21% and deaths by 18%.
Even in countries with a lower threshold for alarm from the current test, the new version could still significantly reduce the incidence and mortality of the disease.
Switching to the new test in existing screening programs should be straightforward since it requires similar procedures for collecting and analyzing samples. This is great news, according to Gerrit Meijer, the lead researcher.
However, before this test can become the new standard, it needs to be produced on a large scale and meet European guidelines for diagnostic tests.
To achieve this, the research team has started a company, aiming to make the test available not just in the Netherlands but around the world.
This development represents a significant step forward in the fight against colorectal cancer.
By catching the disease earlier and more accurately, we have a better chance of beating it, saving lives, and sparing many people from the ordeal of advanced cancer treatment.
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The research findings can be found in The Lancet Oncology.
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