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New blood test could reshape early CRC screening

A simple blood test that looks for specific RNA snippets could become a precursor to colonoscopy.
Medical professional prepping patient for bloodwork
Medical professional prepping patient for bloodwork

A simple blood test that looks for a combination of specific RNA snippets may become a novel way to screen for early-onset colorectal cancer, suggests a new study published in Gastroenterology.

Researchers identified four microRNAs that together comprise a signature biomarker that can be used to detect and diagnose the presence of colorectal cancer from a liquid biopsy in a younger population.

MicroRNAs, or miRNAs, are small RNA molecules that do not encode proteins but are used instead to regulate gene expression. The study authors developed and validated a panel that detects four miRNAs occurring at higher levels in plasma samples from patients with early-onset colorectal cancer, with high sensitivity and specificity.

"The point would be to use this test as a routine part of annual healthcare, or for people in high-risk families every 6 months. It’s affordable, it can be done easily from a small tube of blood, and as long as that test stays negative, you’re good, because even if patients miss a test, the next one, whether it’s 6 months or a year later, will catch any potential cancer."
Ajay Goel Headshot
Ajay Goel, PhD, MS
Study senior author
Chair of the department of molecular diagnostics and experimental therapeutics at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center

“Colon cancer is not going to kill somebody overnight, so this should be used as a precursor to colonoscopy. As long as that test is negative, you can postpone a colonoscopy,” said Dr. Goel.

Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, who was not involved in the research, said in an interview that the findings are exciting.

“It would be really value-added to have a blood-based screening test,” Dr. Chan said, adding that researchers have pursued multiple different avenues in pursuit of one. “It’s very nice to see that area progress and to actually have some evidence that microRNAs could be a potential biomarker for colorectal cancer.”
Andrew Chan Headshot
Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH
Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and vice chair of gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital
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