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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
New test for bowel cancer
Bowel scan
Bowel cancer is a common killer
Scientists have developed a new test for bowel cancer.

They say it could potentially be used for a national screening programme to diagnose the disease at an earlier and more treatable stage.


We hope the test could be routinely used to diagnose patients earlier and help save live

Dr Nick Coleman
The test has been developed by a team from the Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit, in Cambridge.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK after lung cancer, but when detected early it is a highly curable disease.

In the UK, 34,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

Painful procedure

The new test is rapid, reliable and, importantly, avoids discomfort to patients.

At the moment, patients are examined through endoscopy, an invasive procedure that may involve taking cells from inside the colon - the main part of the large intestine.

The test works by identifying abnormal colon cells from stool samples.

The cells are naturally shed from the lining of the colon and can be detected in faeces.

The cells are tested for the presence of a substance called the Mcm2 protein.

This protein cannot be found in most normal cells in the body but cancerous cells contain it in sufficient quantities to be detected.

The approach used by the team is similar to one that they and colleagues have developed for improved screening for cervical cancer, which is currently undergoing extensive investigation.

The research team worked with doctors and patients at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge.

Clinical trials

Mr Justin Davies, a surgeon at Addenbrooke's who carried out much of the research, said: "We found the Mcm2 protein in the stool samples of 37 out of 40 patients with bowel cancer but not from any people in a control group of healthy volunteers."

Lead researcher Dr Nick Coleman said: "We're very pleased with the results so far. The next step is to see if the test proves successful in large-scale clinical trials.

"If so, we hope the test could be routinely used to diagnose patients earlier and help save lives."

Sir Paul Nurse, Interim Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This test builds on the methods successfully introduced for analysis of screening samples in cervical cancer.

"It holds considerable promise for screening for early bowel cancer and could potentially be combined with other screening methods.

"Larger studies will now be needed to assess the value of the test more precisely."

The research is published in The Lancet medical journal.

See also:

12 May 00 | C-D
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