Can a urine test speed up bowel cancer?

An OTC test that reveals whether an individual is at risk of bowel cancer will be available within the next few years, according to media reports.

UK researchers have developed a simple test that was found to predict the risk of bowel cancer by detecting levels of cancer biomarkers present in urine samples.

Currently, faecal occult blood (FOB) tests are used to detect bowel cancer by looking for blood in stool samples.

But whereas FOB tests need to be sent away to a laboratory for analysis, the new urine test will give an instant result.

The NHS bowel cancer screening programme, currently being rolled out across England, targets people aged 60-69, and from 2010 will include people up to the age of 75.

But the study's researchers hope that the launch of the new test will lead to more people across more age groups being checked for bowel cancer, say the papers.

What is the research?
The reports are based on preliminary findings from a small study of patients and early stage development of the urine test.

The researchers have developed an electrochemical immunosensor for non-invasive monitoring of cancer biomarkers found in urine.

The immunosensors function by looking for biomarkers of DNA damage related to red meat intake and the risk of colorectal cancer.

Previous studies have shown that increased consumption of red meat leads to increased levels of DNA damage in the GI tract.

Repair of this damage results in urinary DNA adducts - abnormal changes that have been shown to be the start of a cancerous cell - that are predictive of bowel cancer.

The newly developed sensor is applied to the urine sample and produces an instant positive or negative result based on the levels of DNA adducts found in the urine samples.

Anyone who has a positive bowel cancer risk can be targeted for advice on reducing risk.

A one-year pilot study begins this year involving volunteers who have consumed high levels of red meat over 15 days.

What do the researchers say?
The lead researcher, Dr Maria Velasco-Garcia, from the department of chemistry and analytical sciences at the Open University, said: 'We are excited about this research because it means that more people can be screened before the cancer develops.'

She explained that the test offered the prospect of a rapid measurement of cancer biomarkers and increased flexibility for portable testing.

'If we can predict that someone is at high risk of developing the disease, we can provide advice to stop it spreading,' added Dr Velasco-Garcia.

'But this study is at an early stage and we are unable to predict when the test will become available at GP surgeries.'

What do other researchers say?
Dr Greg Martin, head of science and research at the World Cancer Research Federation, said: 'This research is going to change how we diagnose colon cancer. It will be quicker and less unpleasant than the current method.'

Patients testing positive can make lifestyle changes to minimise risk.

Informing patients
  • A urine test to predict the risk of bowel cancer could be available on the high street in the future.
  • High levels of DNA adducts indicate a high risk of bowel cancer.
  • Further research is required. The test is still at the preliminary stage of development.
  • GPs should advise patients to reduce alcohol and red meat intake to minimise the risk of bowel cancer.



Open University preliminary research

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