Colon Score by MK&M
Saving Lives with an Innovative Algorithmic Model for Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer.
With nearly 1.5 million new cases diagnosed each year, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. While colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early enough, many of these cases are discovered at very late stages, when patients have only 5% chance of surviving 5 years. But what if there were early warning signs? What if this cancer could be accurately predicted, before it actually appears?
The Morris Kahn Foundation, in collaboration with the Maccabitech Research and Innovation Institute, headed by Prof. Varda Shalev, has been working to develop just such a tool that can identify patients who are likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer – years before their cancer is actually detected.
It all began when a patient in Prof. Shalev’s clinic was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer. In a thorough examination of the laboratory tests, it was found that the patient’s hemoglobin levels had begun to decline three years earlier, despite no finding of anemia. It raised a question: could that drop in hemoglobin levels have been an indication that would have enabled his doctors to discover the malignancy in time?
Ensuing studies found that indeed, it was possible to diagnose a decrease in hemoglobin levels in patients without anemia, as early as 3.5 years before they would receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Using a database of more than half a million Maccabi patients, an algorithm developed and tested in the US. Taking into account the subject’s age and sex, as well as the blood test results, patients with a positive reading were found to be 21.8% more likely to develop colorectal cancer. These at-risk patients could then be given early colonoscopie, with 4-5% of those patients testing positive for colorectal cancer.
World’s first application of an algorithm for early cancer detection
Since the end of 2016, the algorithm has been implemented in Maccabi Healthcare Services. Patients who have not yet had the relevant blood test or colonscopy and receive a positive score receive an automatic alert from the system, followed up by their doctor’s recommendation for a colonoscopy. To date, 120,000 people have been examined in the colon scan, 40 of whom were found with a tumor and 168 discovered to have pre-malignant growths.
Colon Score has already drawn interest from around the world, and has been approved by the Israeli and European Health Ministry, with FDA approval underway. While the reliability of the test is still being checked, Prof. Shalev emphasizes that patients of 50 years and older should still have an occult blood test performed every year and a colonoscopy every 10 years. However with Colon Score, even those who are avoiding the screening tests, will be able to know if they have a high-risk of developing colorectal cancer, enabling them to be tested and catch it in its early or even pre-cancerous stages.