Director's message: New frontier for colorectal cancer screening

Volume 6, Issue 1, 2017


The noninvasive stool DNA test may help boost screening participation for colorectal cancer.

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

Robert B. Diasio, M.D.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — a good time to reflect on the challenges we face in stopping a malignancy that kills more than 50,000 people in the U.S. annually.

We know that about 60 percent of all colorectal cancers are found because of a patient's symptoms rather than as a result of screening. However, due to low screening rates, more than half of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages (stage III or IV). These statistics underscore the critical need to improve screening participation.

When caught early, colorectal cancer has very good cure rates.

So what are we doing to improve participation in screening?

In June 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued updated guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. The task force noted that in general the best test is the one that gets done. The group also recommended new options, including a stool DNA test co-developed by researchers at Mayo Clinic.

This new noninvasive stool DNA test, which is prescribed by a health care provider, allows patients to collect a sample in the privacy of their homes and send it to a lab to analyze it for the presence of blood and altered DNA from abnormal cancerous or precancerous cells. There is no bowel preparation involved and no dietary or medication restrictions — components of colonoscopy prep that many patients dislike.

As a physician and the director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, I know that many people are unable or unwilling to undergo colonoscopy. By including an accurate, noninvasive and patient-friendly stool DNA test among the options available to patients, we have taken a significant step toward increasing both participation in and effectiveness of screening for colorectal cancer.

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