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March 29, 2013
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Upstate is part of national study looking for biomarkers to detect colon cancer

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Upstate Medical University is participating in a major clinical trial to see if biological markers may provide doctors with clues to the early presence of colon cancer—before symptoms show. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of death in men and women in the United States.

Upstate is one of only 18 sites in the country and one of only two sites in New York participating in this National Cancer Institute study.

The concept of using biomarkers to detect cancer is not new, but it is a hot topic among cancer researchers who are examining the potential of both protein and molecular biomarkers. The PSA test is already in use, to measure levels of prostate specific antigen in men with prostate cancer, and something similar is used to check for ovarian cancer recurrence in women.

Upstate is hoping to detect something in a person’s blood, urine or stool that could be used to reveal the early presence of colorectal cancer. The researchers want to use these samples to learn about specific proteins or genes, also called biomarkers, that may indicate if someone has colon polyps (pre-cancer), colon cancer, or an increased risk for developing colon cancer.

The trial is open to individuals between the ages of 50 and 80 who have no history of cancer. They will be required to provide blood, urine and stool samples, as well as complete a questionnaire about one’s dietary habits.  Participants also should be planning on having a routine colonoscopy in the near future. Upstate will cover the costs associated with obtaining samples noted above and parking for one visit to campus.

A $35 gift card will also be offered to participants.  The colonoscopy is not part of the study, but participants need to obtain one as they normally would through their personal physician.

Jiri Bem, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Upstate, who is a co-principal investigator on the study, along with colleague David Halleran, MD, a surgeon located at Upstate’s Community Campus, says the potential is exciting, but this study is just the beginning. “This is going to be another small step toward that goal. It’s going to take probably several years before we know what we’ve achieved and where else we need to focus,” he says. The data collected in Syracuse will be included with data from about 5,850 other people in the United States.

While the clinical trial may hold promise for early detection of colon cancer, doctors say the colonoscopy provides the best surveillance to date to catch the disease in its early stages.

“Physicians can intervene and actually prevent the progression to a cancer,” Halleran said. Colorectal cancers begin as benign growths called polyps. Finding polyps and removing them prevents the cancer, he says. That means undergoing colonoscopy, in which a long, thin tube is inserted through the rectum and into the colon so the doctor can visualize the inside of the large intestine. Any polyps found can be removed at the same time.”

For more information on the trial, call Upstate Connect at 1-800-464-8668.

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