Intestinal carcinoma, colorectal cancer, bowel neoplasia, 3D illustration
Credit: Dr_Microbe/Getty Images

The fourth most prevalent cancer in the U.S., colorectal cancer (CRC) incidences has been increasing, especially among patient younger than 50. Even worse, those younger patients tend to be diagnosed later and with more aggressive disease than those with late-onset colorectal cancer diagnosed in people 50 years or older. Now, researchers at cancer treatment specialist City of Hope say they have identified a blood-based biomarker to better detect early-onset CRC, which could become valuable tool in getting a jump on treating the disease.

“More research is needed, but this finding could help fill a void in the cancer prevention and early detection field, which does not currently have a noninvasive and accurate way to detect the presence of nonhereditary colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 years old,” said Ajay Goel, Ph.D., M.S., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics at City of Hope. “The study is significant because it is the first time a novel microRNA (miRNA) biomarker has been identified, developed and validated to detect early-onset colorectal cancer.”

For the City of Hope study, published recently in the journal Gastroenterology, researchers tapped a public database for a genome-wide analysis to identify miRNA signatures of CRC. The team extrapolated the data of patients with either Stage 1 or 2 early-onset colorectal cancer (42 patients) or patients with late-onset colorectal cancer (370 patients) and then validated the results using blood samples from 149 patients with early-onset colorectal cancer and compared the data with a control group of 110.

To enhance specificity and accuracy, the researchers eliminated all miRNA markers shared by people with early- and late-onset colorectal cancer to better identify patients with early-onset colorectal cancer. Once these miRNAs were stripped away from the data, City of Hope investigators were able to identify four miRNAs that combined to create a signature of early-onset disease that could be used to develop an blood-based diagnostic to detect the presence of early-onset CRC.

“The goal would be to eventually be able to use this test as a part of an annual physical exam or every six months for people who are at high-risk for colorectal cancer due to the genes they inherited,” Goel said. “Noninvasive fecal and blood tests that are currently available to people are not yet able to accurately detect early-onset colorectal cancer.”

City of Hope is an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center that is taking an integrated approach to proving both research and cancer care to patients in Southern California. It operates out of its main campus in Los Angeles as well as a network of community cancer clinics and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. A new, cancer center is slated to open later this year in Orange County, CA. It also operates the research facilities of Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

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