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New blood test to detect bowel cancer

AAP logoAAP 21/12/2016 Sarah Wiedersehn

Australian scientists are hopeful a new blood test developed to detect a recurrence of bowel cancer will lead to a reduction in the number of deaths from the disease.

The Colvera test, developed by the CSIRO in partnership with Flinders University and US biotech company Clinical Genomocis, is said to be twice as effective as the current method of testing for the deadly disease that affects thousands of Australians.

There are more than 4000 bowel cancer deaths in Australia each year. The number of new cases diagnosed this year is estimated to be over 17,000.

In 30 to 50 per cent of cases, the disease will recur, usually in the first two to three years following initial diagnosis and treatment.

Currently, the recurrence of bowel cancer is detected through a blood test for CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen), together with CT scans and other clinical assessments.

CSIRO scientist Dr Trevor Lockett says the Colvera test, launched on the US market on Wednesday, is more sensitive to CEA and therefore increases the likelihood of detecting the "curable" cancer.

President and chief executive of Clinical Genomics, Lawrence LaPointe, says the test can indicate early molecular changes associated with cancer development.

"It is intended to provide physicians with actionable information that can trigger further clinical assessment, which may lead to improved outcomes," Dr LaPointe said in a statement.

Cancer Council Australia CEO Sanchia Aranda said Colvera may benefit those who have already had a diagnosis but its too early to say what it's impact on overall deaths from bowel cancer, sometimes referred to as colorectal cancer, will have.

She said in many ways the national bowel screening program is still the "holy grail" to preventing bowel cancer deaths.

"The national bowel screening program seeks to identify polyps which are precursors to cancer.

"The program works on the principal of detecting pre-cancers with the aim of reducing the incidence of the disease, not just reducing the deaths from it," Professor Aranda said.

It's hoped that Colvera will be available in Australia as early as next year.

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