Colonoscopies might beat out root canals as the most reviled commonplace medical procedure that many of us might expect to undergo.
Nevertheless, the uncomfortable undertaking is currently one of the best ways to detect early signs of colorectal cancer, a disease that more than 142,000 Americans are diagnosed with each year—and one that kills more than 51,000.
But adults between the ages of 50 and 74 might soon be able to put the dread days ofrecommended decadal colonoscopies behind them. Researchers announced Thursday early results that indicate their noninvasive test has excellent accuracy in detecting the cancer—as well as more than half of substantial precancerous polyps.
“This test exceeded our expectations,” David Ahlquist, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and study collaborator, said in a press briefing at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Colorectal Cancer conference in Philadelphia. The test, which is being developed by Madison, Wisc.–based company Exact Sciences,looks for telltale signs of cancerous DNA methylation in stool samples.
In a study of some 1,100 individuals, the test had about an 86 percent accuracy rate in detecting cancers that could be removed surgically. It “would be hard,” Ahlquist said “to find another non-invasive test that got into that range.” Other gentle screening methods, such as fecal blood tests, can detect cancers but usually miss indications of pre-cancerous lesions. The new test also caught more than half (about 64 percent) of sizable precancerous lesions.