A Simple Blood Test For Colon Cancer?

Researchers recently unveiled a new blood test that they say can detect colon cancer cells early and identify precancerous cells, as well. It’s much simpler — and more comfortable — than a colonoscopy and will likely be inexpensive, as well. What’s the rub? We’re not there yet; it still needs more testing.

But the research was big news among colon cancer experts at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium. Those of us concerned about colorectal cancer risk need to pay close attention to the future availability of this test and others like it.

Why? Right now the problem with colorectal cancers is that they’re silent killers; people usually don’t know they have a tumor until they have blood in their stool, at which time they tell their doctor and a colonoscopy is performed. Blood that’s present in the stool but isn’t visible can be detected with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT).

But many adults don’t avail themselves of either of these routine cancer screening tools. Only about half of all Americans ages 50 and older said they’d had a FOBT within the past year or a colonscopy within the past ten years, according to a survey conducted by the CDC. When asked why not, about half of those who hadn’t had any tests said they didn’t know they should be screened, and the other half said that lack of health insurance and regular health care had prevented them from seeking screening.

The other problem with these tests, beyond the fact that people don’t use them, is that they only catch a tumor that’s big enough to be causing bleeding or other colorectal cancer symptoms, which also means it’s big enough that it could have spread through the intestinal wall or to other organs.