New blood test shows high accuracy for colorectal cancer detection, study finds: ‘Not interchangeable’


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A simple blood test could detect colorectal cancer (CRC) with more than 80% accuracy, according to a new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington. 

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, included nearly 8,000 people between the ages of 45 and 84, a press release stated. 

The results from the SHIELD blood test — which is made by Guardant, a pharmaceutical company in Palo Alto, California — were compared to the results from a colonoscopy procedure, the latter of which is considered the “gold standard for colorectal cancer screening,” the release said.

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Among the participants who had colorectal cancer cases that were confirmed by colonoscopy, just over 83% tested positive through the blood test and 16.9% had a negative test. 

The SHIELD test works by picking up signs of colorectal cancer from DNA that is shed by tumors, which is called circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA).

A simple blood test could detect colorectal cancer (CRC) with more than 80% accuracy, according to a new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.  (iStock)

The test performed the best at picking up colorectal cancers and was less effective at detecting precancerous lesions, the researchers found.

The SHIELD blood test is intended for use as a colorectal cancer screening for people who are of “average risk” and are not experiencing symptoms, noted study co-author William M. Grady, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Washington.

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The accuracy rate for colorectal cancer is similar to at-home stool tests used for early detection of colorectal cancer,” Grady told Fox News Digital.

The study did have some limitations, he acknowledged.

“The study was done [among] average-risk people, and that’s who the test is meant for,” he said.  

medications and lab tests

The new blood test is intended for use as a colorectal cancer screening for people who are of “average risk” — and who are not experiencing symptoms. (iStock)

The test is not currently meant to be used in high-risk people, such as those with a family history of colorectal cancer, personal history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, he clarified.

The state of colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most lethal cancer in the U.S.  

It’s expected to claim 53,010 lives in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

People who are at average risk should start regular screenings at age 45, the ACS recommends.

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“Colorectal cancer is largely preventable, and there are currently available screening tests such as colonoscopy, FIT stool tests and the MT stool DNA test that can prevent it,” he said. 

The problem, Grady noted, is that some 40% to 50% of people who should be getting screened are not doing so.

Man blood test

“Blood-based screening tests are more acceptable to people than colonoscopy and stool tests and will likely increase screening compliance.” (iStock)

The hope is that a blood-based test would help boost screening rates.

Blood-based screening tests are more acceptable to people than colonoscopy and stool tests and likely will increase screening compliance,” Grady said. “This could lead to fewer CRC-related deaths.”

Some doctors have voiced concerns about the effectiveness of the blood test — particularly its lower sensitivity to pre-cancerous symptoms.

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“Due to insufficient adenoma detection, these new blood-based tests will not be as effective as Cologuard [the stool sample test], even when their adherence is perfect, compared to current adherence of Cologuard,” said Dr. Mark Fendrick of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in a statement provided to Fox News Digital.

Fendrick was not involved in the NEJM study.

Man giving blood

“Having data on a new blood-based screening test for colorectal cancer is exciting. If approved, it will help identify people who will need to undergo colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis and ultimately help save lives.” (iStock)

The American Gastroenterological Association released a statement in response to the NEJM study.

“Having data on a new blood-based screening test for colorectal cancer is exciting. If approved, it will help identify people who will need to undergo colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis and ultimately help save lives,” said Barbara H. Jung, M.D., president of the American Gastroenterological Association, in a statement provided to Fox News Digital.

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The association warned, however, that blood tests do not pick up precancerous polyps — which colonoscopies can detect.

“The blood test reported in the New England Journal of Medicine study is only designed to pick up cancers and not precancerous polyps,” Jung noted.

Blood tests, however, do not pick up precancerous polyps, which colonoscopies can detect.

“Blood tests are not interchangeable with colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening, but should prove to be an additional tool to help identify colorectal cancer early.”

Blood tests could be recommended for patients who decline all other recommended tests, Jung noted — “since any screening is better than no screening at all.”

couple holds hands at appointment

One expert said that blood tests could be recommended for patients who decline all other recommended tests — “since any screening is better than no screening at all.” (iStock)

Those who are interested in the SHIELD blood test should consult with their primary care provider, Grady said.

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“This is significant given that at this time, when people are given the option of doing CRC screening with a stool-based test or with colonoscopy, currently half of people are electing to do neither,” he added.

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