Director's message: Colorectal cancer awareness month

Volume 5, Issue 1, 2016


New DNA stool test makes colorectal cancer screening easier for patients.

Photograph of Robert B. Diasio, M.D., director, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center

Robert B. Diasio, M.D.

March is colorectal cancer awareness month, an important time to focus on the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

The tragic thing about colorectal cancer is the high number of deaths associated with the disease, because when found early, it's actually quite treatable and many patients have good outcomes.

Colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing precancerous polyps in the colon. So the most important step anyone can take to help prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened at the appropriate intervals recommended by physicians.

I'm sure everyone knows someone who approached his or her 50th birthday with a sense of dread about the preparation and time required to undergo a colonoscopy. That's unfortunate, because colonoscopies save lives.

The process may not be as daunting as you may think.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center have developed a new method of screening for colorectal cancer that uses stool DNA. The new test is simple and effective and doesn't require advance preparation or a visit to a medical facility.

Here's how it works.

The stool DNA test checks cells in a patient's stool sample for DNA changes that occur within the colon. The lining of the colon sheds cells all the time, including cells from polyps and cancers. These cells may be found in the stool.

The stool DNA test also measures blood in the stool. Certain DNA changes or blood in your stool may be a sign of colon polyps or cancer.

There are no side effects from collecting and testing a stool sample.

The stool DNA test for colon cancer screening is also simple to do.

Patients can take the test at home and mail the sample for testing. Patients don't need to take time off from work or daily activities. There's no special bowel preparation before the test, and there's no need for patients to change diets, medicines or activities before or after the test.

It's important to note that the stool DNA test is only a screening test. It doesn't take the place of a colonoscopy to diagnose colorectal cancer, and it can't be used to monitor people at high risk of colorectal cancer.

The stool DNA test is just the newest of several screening options for colorectal cancer that may help remove barriers that prevent some people from getting screened, and that's something we should celebrate.

You can learn more about the stool DNA test in this issue of Forefront.

Robert B. Diasio, M.D.
Director, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center
William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor