Colon Research

Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in this country. One of the best defenses against it is early detection, so researchers are working hard to come up with new ways to identify people most at risk. Carolyn Pennington has details on one such effort underway at the University of Connecticut.

Susan Tourtillotte, who lost her dad to colon cancer, said, “We lost my dad a year ago to it, and when he started having symptoms, it was too late.”

Forty-year-old Susan Tourtillotte, mother of two young boys, is doing all she can now to prevent suffering the same fate as her father who died of colon cancer. She's exercising, eating a healthy diet, and doing something her dad never did. She’s having regular colonoscopy screenings.

Susan Tourtillotte said, "His family physician never even recommended it. I think it's important we arm ourselves with knowledge today and get the screening."

And soon, the screening for this very common cancer could take a giant step forward, thanks to the center for molecular medicine at the UConn Health Center.

Researchers here have been studying the earliest microscopic changes within the large intestine. “These are an alteration that could occur decades prior to the actual cancer."

Dr. Daniel Rosenberg says those changes include very small lesions, which they remove and then study their genetic profile. Their ultimate goal is a simple blood test that could identify the molecular markers, which put people at higher risk.

Daniel Rosenberg, PhD, a cancer biologist at the University of Connecticut says, “If we can understand how these, how this profile of genes change decades prior to the disease, we might be able to come up with strategies to have an intervention."

Dr. Joel Levine said, "We know for example some of the earliest strategies are suppressible by using aspirin or medications that act like aspirin." But until this research becomes an everyday reality, Susan says the best way to prevent colon cancer is still a colonoscopy.

Susan Tourtillotte said, “If you can't do it for yourself, motivate yourself to do it for your children.”

Colorectal cancer is also one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, and approximately 147,500 new cases were diagnosed in 2003.