A new study published in the British Journal of Cancer promises to open up new avenues toward swifter diagnosis of colorectal cancer by identifying two potential biomarkers for the early detection of the disease.

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The colon and rectum belong to our body’s digestive system; together, they are also known as the large bowel.

Despite progress over recent decades, colorectal cancer remains one of the most deadly cancers worldwide. The main cause of death is spread of disease to other organs such as the liver and the lungs. Thus, any research that suggests new lines of approach for making earlier diagnoses is of keen interest to public health.

A cancer biomarker is a molecule whose presence – or absence – in tissue may indicate that tumors are developing. It can become a test for the early detection of cancer and may even predict its severity or form part of its treatment.

After skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the US. The American Cancer Society estimate there will be 96,830 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer in the US in 2014.

Senior author Serge Haan, a professor in the Life Science Research Unit at the University of Luxembourg, says if it is diagnosed in time, 9 out of 10 cases of colorectal cancer can be cured.

“Thus, it is highly important to identify more sensitive and specific markers to improve early diagnosis as well as therapeutic strategies,” he adds.

For their study, Prof. Haan and colleagues examined the detailed analysis of 800 tests of tissue samples from patients at various stages of colorectal cancer and from healthy individuals. The samples came from the Ontario Tumor Bank in Canada and the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg.

The analysis showed a significant reduction in two proteins – SOCS2 and SOCS6 – in pre-cancerous and cancerous colorectal cells.

Suppressor Of Cytokine Signalling (SOCS) proteins are essential for normal cell growth. Evidence is mounting that their absence – thought to spur uncontrolled growth – plays an important role in cancer.

After further analysis, they also found SOCS2 may serve as an early predictor of cancer severity.

The researchers suggest their findings add to this mounting evidence and conclude that the two proteins – especially SOCS2 – could be a very sensitive biomarker for the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer. The team says more work is now needed to make the findings clinically useful.

Funds from the Luxembourg Cancer Foundation helped finance the study.

In April 2014, Medical News Today learned of a study suggesting gut bacteria that suppress DNA repair may encourage colon cancer. The team behind the study, from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, PA, found gut bacteria that cause gastric upsets may promote the ideal “incubating” conditions for tumors by blocking routine DNA repair mechanisms.