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Study Suggests Improved DNA Stool Test Could Detect Digestive Cancers in Multiple Organs

July 29, 2010
Mayo Clinic researchers have demonstrated that a noninvasive screening test can detect not only colorectal cancer but also the common cancers above the colon — including pancreas, stomach, biliary and esophageal cancers. This is one of more than 100 Mayo Clinic studies being presented at Digestive Disease Week 2009 in Chicago, May 30June 4.

Patients are often worried about invasive tests like colonoscopies, and yet these tests have been the key to early cancer detection and prevention, says David Ahlquist, M.D., Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and lead researcher on the study. Our research team continues to look for more patient-friendly tests with expanded value, and this new study reveals an opportunity for multi-organ digestive cancer screening with a single noninvasive test.

The researchers studied 70 patients with cancers throughout the digestive tract. Besides colon cancer, the study looked at throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreatic, bile duct, gallbladder and small bowel cancers to determine if gene mutations could be detected in stool samples. Using a stool test approach developed at Mayo Clinic, researchers targeted DNA from cells that are shed continuously from the surface of these cancers. Also studied were 70 healthy patients. Stool tests were performed on cancer patients and healthy controls by technicians unaware of sample source. The stool DNA test was positive in over 70 percent of digestive cancers, but remained negative for all healthy controls, thus demonstrating the approachs feasibility.

Stool DNA testing detected cancers at each organ site, including 65 percent of esophageal cancers, 62 percent of pancreatic cancers, and 75 percent of bile duct and gallbladder cancers. In this series, 100 percent of both stomach and colorectal cancers were detected. Importantly, stool test results did not differ by cancer stage; early-stage cancers were just as likely to be detected as late-stage cancers.

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