Press Release

Alliance Funds Research Into Blood-Based Tests For Young-Onset Patients

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance today announced it will fund research led by Dr. Megan Hitchins of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to determine if blood-based tests for methylated circulating tumor DNA will accurately detect colorectal cancer in people under age 50.

Circulating tumor DNA, or ctDNA, are tiny flakes of tumor DNA that are shed from tumor cells and can be detected in the blood of patients, giving doctors an option for non-invasive colorectal cancer early detection. Presently just one ctDNA screening test is approved, and it's for patients over age 50.  

As part of this innovative project, Hitchins will test two new blood-based biomarker candidates of colorectal cancer alongside the existing mSEPT9 test—known as Epi proColon—to assess their usefulness for detecting colorectal cancer in people under age 50. 

According to Hitchins’ earlier research, the two new biomarker candidates have been found to occur more frequently in early-stage colorectal cancer tumors than mSEPT9.

If the study shows any one or a combination of these three markers is capable of accurately detecting colorectal cancer in people under 50 years of age, this research could substantially revise the screening and early detection options that may become available to younger people. 

“We hope that the combination of three markers in a single test-panel will improve the rate of detection of colorectal cancer in blood-based testing,” said Hitchins. “Given the trend in increased incidence and advanced-stage diagnoses of colorectal cancer in people under 50 years of age, a blood test may be an attractive and cost-effective alternative for screening in this younger group.”

Early detection of colorectal cancer is key to improving survival, but there are currently no recommended screening methods for the people under 50 years old, some of whom are at high risk for colorectal cancer due to genetic mutations or other adverse factors. 

“The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is committed to funding innovative research with great potential to save lives,” said Dr. Ronit Yarden, the Alliance’s senior director of medical affairs. “This project can provide needed evidence of ctDNA’s application in detecting early-stage tumors and improving survival in young-onset colorectal cancer patients.”

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. Approximately 145,600 new cases will be diagnosed and 51,020 Americans will die of this disease in 2018. While incidence is declining in people above age 50, it’s rising in those under age 50. Doctors are not sure why.

This project is funded through the Colorectal Cancer Alliance's Chris4Life Research Program, which is committed to supporting peer-reviewed, ground-breaking research to fulfill the Alliance’s mission to end the disease in our lifetime. Hitchins will be provided one $150,000 grant for prevention research, awarded over a two-year period.

Dr. Hitchins’ scientific research career has focused on the genetic and epigenetic changes that cause disease in humans or can serve as biomarkers for disease detection. She completed her Ph.D. in clinical genetics at University College London, UK, in 1999, followed by post-doctoral training at Imperial College London. She is presently an associate professor at the Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

About the Colorectal Cancer Alliance

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is a national nonprofit committed to ending colorectal cancer. Working with our nation of passionate allies, we diligently support the needs of patients and families, caregivers, and survivors; eagerly raise awareness of preventive screening; and continually strive to fund critical research. As allies in the struggle, we are fiercely determined to end colorectal cancer within our lifetime. For more information, visit

Photo courtesy of Can Too Foundation

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