Maccabi Health Services has developed a new noninvasive procedure to detect early signs of colon cancer.

Israeli health clinic develops new noninvasive colon cancer test

Doctors in Israel attempt to increase awareness and promote early testing for Israel's second-deadliest cancer, but many avoid the generally unpleasant procedures for early detection -- stool samples and colonoscopies.

Maytal Yasur Beit-Or

Doctors hope new noninvasive technique to determine signs of colon cancer will lead many people to get tested who avoided the uncomfortable tests previously offered    |    צילום: Liquidlibrary

Colon cancer is the second most common and deadly form of cancer in Israel, with 3,200 new cases diagnosed and 1,300 deaths resulting from it in 2012. Doctors in Israel have attempted to increase awareness and promote early testing for the disease, but many people avoid undergoing the generally unpleasant procedures for early detection -- collecting stool samples and colonoscopies, both of which are recommended from age 50 onward. Patients who do not want to have the aforementioned tests performed are eligible to try the new noninvasive technique.

The new test, called "Colon Score," is an algorithm that analyzes standard blood tests that insured patients take every one to two years. 

"We discovered that colon cancer patients showed a drop in hemoglobin levels, though still within normal range, around three and half years before the cancer broke out. We noted the drop in more than 1,000 patients and thought it was not enough to simply note the trend, but to harness it as a tool and say: this patient is at risk for colon cancer," Maccabitech Director Professor Varda Shalev said.

The test was developed with help from the biotechnology firm MedialCS, and in tests functioned correctly on more than 100,000 patients. The Health Ministry has approved the test, as well as European Union approval (the CE marking), and the test is currently registering for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

According to Maccabi, out of every 100 people tested, around 20 to 30 will be found to have early symptoms leading to cancer (polyps or adenoids), and colon cancer will be detected in 5% of those tested. The Maccabi Health Fund will offer the new test starting September and the algorithm will be run on blood samples existing in the system, leading the health care provider to believe thousands will receive a call from a doctor to undergo a colonoscopy soon.

"I believe the tool will reduce both the incidence and mortality rate of this cancer," Shalev said, "The real way to deal with colon cancer is early. If you discover the cancer early, you can make it a distant memory," she said.

Maccabi CEO Ran Sa'ar is hopeful his clinic's new tool will be adopted worldwide. "Colon cancer is the second most common form of cancer. We discovered a tool that helps us treat and prevent it. I am excited to be the first health organization to develop something so significant. We can save hundreds and thousands of lives each year, and hopefully the world will adopt this tool," he said. 

The new algorithm is also being evaluated for use in detecting early signs of lung and other cancers in the 40- to 50-year-old age group, where early testing is recommended.

"This technique opens doors for us to use it on other types of cancer," MedialCS CEO Ori Geva said.