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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 12:35 GMT
Test detects cancer early
Bowel cancer
Screening increases detection rate
Lives could be saved by a new test that can detect cancer in its early stages, a leading scientist says.

The test has produced promising results in trials involving bowel cancer, but it also has the potential to detect other common forms of the disease such as cervical, lung, breast and bladder cancer.

Professor Ron Laskey told the Cancer Research UK conference in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, said the test was rapid and reliable.

If detected early bowel cancer is treatable in the great majority of case

Professor Ron Laskey
It could form part of a national screening programme, he said.

The technique identifies signs of cancer in the faeces. It could be used in conjunction with internal bowel aminations, which scientists have shown can prevent many cases of the disease.

Cells are routinely shed from the lining of the bowel into the faeces and scientists realised that testing these for signs of abnormality might be an early way of telling whether cancer was developing.


Professor Laskey, Honorary Director of the Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit, said: "If detected early bowel cancer is treatable in the great majority of cases.

"But unfortunately by the time the disease is diagnosed it has often begun to spread around the body.

"Earlier diagnosis is therefore absolutely key to treating the disease more effectively.

"One approach to diagnosing bowel cancer is to look at the bowel lining directly, but another is to use the faeces - which is after all a ready made sample of bowel cells."

Professor Laskey's team tested cells for the presence of a molecule called MCM2, which is involved in making new DNA and is only present in cells that are actively dividing.

Normal bowel cells do not contain MCM2, but cancerous or precancerous cells - which have often begun to divide out of control - typically have large amounts of the molecule.

Researchers tested the faeces of two groups of people - bowel cancer patients and healthy volunteers.

In the patient group, 37 out of 40 tested positive for MCM2, whereas the molecule was not detected in any of the healthy individuals.

Professor Laskey said: "We are really excited by our results so far, which suggest that our test is not only sensitive but also specific, in that it does not accidentally pick out healthy people as having bowel cancer.

"Testing for the MCM2 molecule looks an exceptionally promising way of improving diagnosis, not only for bowel cancer but for other forms of the disease too.

"However, we still need to do larger-scale studies on the new test, and in particular we need to examine it's effectiveness in people with very early, presymptomatic bowel cancer."

Vital step

Cancer Research UK regards the introduction of a screening programme as a critical step in reducing mortality from bowel cancer - the second biggest killer cancer in Britain.

Earlier this year, the charity's scientists announced results from a large-scale patient trial of a type of bowel examination called flexible sigmoidoscopy, which involves inserting a tube into the bowel fitted with a miniature camera.

They assessed the effectiveness of a one-off examination at age 60 followed by treatment for precancerous growths and showed that the procedure could reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by 40% in the target age range.

The charity believes the new faecal test might work well alongside sigmoidoscopy.

Professor Robert Souhami, the charity's Director of Clinical Research, said: "Testing faeces could be a quick and relatively easy way of screening for bowel cancer, and could work well in combination with bowel examinations, which we've already shown can be effective at preventing the disease.

"Neither faecal tests or internal examinations are going to pick up every case of cancer, but the two methods together could prove highly effective in reducing mortality. We still need further and larger studies though, to properly evaluate the effectiveness of this new test."

Professor Ron Laskey
"The test is a method of detecting cancer cells early"
See also:

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