Urine Test for Colon Cancer Developed by Alberta Researchers

By now, many of us are aware that colon cancer is a common and lethal disease.  How come is it?  For those at average risk, the lifetime incidence is roughly 5%.  For those of us who have first-degree family members with colon cancer, particularly those with an onset before 50, the risk is even greater.  In the United States, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death.

70-80% of colon cancers typically occur in those deemed to have an average risk.  For this population, guidelines typically recommend screening after the age of 50.  Current methods including either a fecal occult blood test every one to two years (the yuck test) or a screening colonoscopy every 10 years.

The problem with these screening tests is two-fold.  Both patient adherence (around 15%) and the accuracy itself (sensitivity of approximately 30%) of the FOB test limit its effectiveness while it’s simply not practical to perform screening colonoscopies on the entire population over 50.

[colored_box color=”blue”]Dr. Richard Fedorak (director, Centre of Excellence for Gastrointestinal Inflammation and Immunity Research, University of Alberta), tests a urine sample in the lab. He is developing a new urine test to replace the fecal matter test for pre-cancerous colon polyp screening. Photograph by: Larry Wong , edmontonjournal.com[/colored_box]

Urine Test for Colon Cancer

Fortunately, the FOB test may soon be a thing of the past.  Researchers at the University of Alberta including Drs. Richard Fedorak and Haili Wang have developed a new testing method that can detect metabolites of pre-cancerous polyps in frozen urine samples.

How accurate is the urine test? The first version had an accuracy rate of 82% while the second version tested with a 97% accuracy.

Metabolomic Technologies Inc

When will this technology be available?  According to Dr. Fedorak, the urine screening test could be available to Albertans as soon as late 2012. Current plans suggest that the new University of Alberta spin-out company, Metabolomic Technologies Inc, will commercialize the product.  Estimates suggest that it will cost between $50 to $100 per test compared to the far less-accurate  (and pleasant) FOB test.

For all of the impressive research conducted at my alma mater, this revolutionary urine screening test could finally put the University of Alberta on the map.  Up until this point, it has done a fairly modest job of branding itself.  More importantly, the high sensitivity of the test itself combined with its convenient sample collection and relatively inexpensive cost should help prevent innumerable deaths for colon cancer.

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