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Simple Test Could Detect More Gastrointestinal Cancers

One stool sample can be used to perform several screens, researchers say

TUESDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- DNA testing of a person's stool can accurately screen for more types of cancer than previously thought, a new study has found.

While DNA stool testing has been successfully used for early detection of colorectal cancer, researchers at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic have found that the noninvasive screening is also good at finding other gastrointestinal cancers, such as those of the pancreas, stomach, bile ducts and esophagus.

"Historically, we've approached cancer screening one organ at a time," the study's lead researcher, Dr. David Ahlquist, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, said in a news release. "Stool DNA testing could shift the strategy of cancer screening to multi-organ, whole-patient testing and could also open the door to early detection of cancers above the colon, which are currently not screened." The potential could be enormous, he said.

The findings, to be presented in Chicago at the Digestive Disease Week 2009 conference, is based on a study of patients with cancers throughout the digestive tract and healthy control subjects. The test developed by Mayo Clinic researchers, which checked a patient's stool for the DNA of cells regularly shed from the surface of several types of tumors, detected 65 percent of esophageal cancers, 62 percent of pancreatic cancers, 75 percent of bile duct and gallbladder cancers and 100 percent of stomach and colorectal cancers. The test was equally successful at detecting early-stage and late-stage cancers.

One in four cancer deaths are the result of gastrointestinal cancers, the news release notes. These cancers are quite curable if detected at an early stage, but the only one widely tested for is colorectal cancer, generally through colonoscopy.

"Patients are often worried about invasive tests like colonoscopies, and yet these tests have been the key to early cancer detection and prevention," Ahlquist said. "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."

He said the next step will be refining the tests to further improve accuracy, tumor-site prediction, speed, ease of use and affordability.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about stomach cancer.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, June 2, 2009

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