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Research study could lead to new test for colon cancer

Researchers at Upstate Medical Center are helping in a nationwide study that could change the way people are screened for colon cancer, and the potential to change the way one of the most dreaded medical screening tests is used.

Colorectal surgeon Dr. David Halleran says people aren't exactly knocking down his door asking for colonoscopies.   The often dreaded test, encouraged for anyone over age 50, is the best way to find colon cancer.  But Dr. Halleran says it would be nice to have another kind of screening device.
"The procedure, it does have its rare but true risks, and right now of all people who are candidates for colonoscopy, only 60 percent are still getting it.  So 40 percent are not getting screened for whatever reason," said Halleran. "If we could get a test that was non-invasive, sort of a pre-screen screen, I think it would be a step in the right direction."

That's why Halleran is encouraged by a National Cancer Institute study that will look for biomarkers, that could provide doctors with evidence that a colonoscopy is needed.

"A biomarker is a substance, a protein, or a complex carbohydrate that can be picked up in the blood. The best recognized one is PSA for prostate.  It's a specific protein, and if anything, an early marker for prostate tumors," said Halleran.

Upstate Medical Center is one of 18 hospitals nationwide participating in the study.  Halleran says they are looking for study participants over the age of 60 in central New York, with no history of cancer, who are planning on a routine colonoscopy in the near future.  Researchers will compare results of tests to see if a biomarker could reveal the early presence of cancer.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.