Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early detection is vital to improve cancer survival rates and researchers have identified a new breath test which may help to detect colon cancer.
Colon cancer (often referred to as colorectal cancer) starts in either the large intestine (the colon) or in the rectum. While colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, if it is diagnosed early, a complete cure is often attainable. While there is no single cause of colon cancer, your colon cancer risk increases if you’re over 60, are of African American or European decent, if you consume a diet high in red meat, have colorectal polyps, if you have a family history of colon cancer, if you have a personal history of breast cancer or if you have cancer elsewhere in your body.
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If you smoke and drink alcohol your colon cancer risk is also increased. Certain genetic syndromes including Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) also increase your colon cancer risk.
If you have colon cancer you may have no symptoms of the disease which is why routine screening is recommended to test for this disease. Many people go un-diagnosed until the disease has progressed into the late stages. However, some individuals that have colon cancer may have abdominal pain and tenderness, bloody stool, changes in bowel habits (including constipation and diarrhea), narrow stools and unexplained weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your doctor immediately to rule out colon cancer.
Regular screening helps to diagnose colon cancer in its’ early stages when treatment is the most successful. Traditional screening includes a physical examination, a fecal occult blood test, complete blood count, and liver function tests. Additionally, imaging that can be performed to screen for colon cancer include colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy. Unfortunately, some of the screening methods that are used to detect colon cancer, such as a colonoscopy, are quite invasive which prevents some individuals from undergoing the procedure until the disease has progressed too far.
Breath tests are currently being used to detect benign gastrointestinal problems including H.Pylori infection and lactose intolerance and new research shows that it may be useful in colon cancer screening as well. Researchers in Italy collected breath samples from 37 people with colon cancer and from 41 people without colon cancer. They then used a statistical model to compare the chemical fingerprints of these samples. The individuals who had colon cancer had a different pattern for 15 out of the 58 volatile organic compounds. The breath test was able to identify the majority of participants with the disease, with 76% accuracy.
This research shows promise that a new less-invasive screening tool for colon cancer may be available in the future. Further, larger scale studies are needed to determine if the findings are consistent and reliable. Until this time, it is strongly recommended that those at a higher colon cancer risk undergo regular screening so that the disease is caught early and the chance of survival is dramatically increased.