New blood tests could make colorectal cancer detection cheaper and simpler, research from two studies suggests.

Researchers from OncoMethylome Sciences in Belgium carried out DNA tests on 193 colorectal cancer patients and 688 controls. They found that two genes, SYNE1 and FOXE, occurred with high frequency in cancer patients, but were rarely found in healthy controls.

They then developed a blood test for these genes. It was 77 per cent sensitive and 91 per cent specific for colorectal cancer.

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Researchers from Germany have developed a separate new test to help diagnose colonic, rectal and gastric cancers. A team at the Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin examined RNA in blood plasma samples from patients with GI tumours. They found that the S100A4 mRNA transcript was present at significantly higher levels in patients with the cancer than in healthy controls. The researchers believe their test may be useful for screening at-risk populations.

Professor David Weller, of the department of community health sciences at Edinburgh University, said he believed it was important to keep an open mind about new screening tests for colorectal cancer. Blood tests can readily be incorporated into primary care practice, he pointed out.

Originally published in the December 2009 edition of MIMS Oncology & Palliative Care.