Special report: Only 46 per cent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed at early stages when it is most curable, according to new data from the federal government.

Cancer Australia’s latest “stage at diagnosis” data — the extent to which a cancer has spread when it’s diagnosed — shows that of the top five cancers, colorectal cancer came in second-worst behind lung cancer for early stage detection.

That suggests not enough people are undergoing screening early enough to find out if they have the disease.

ASX-listed Rhythm Biosciences (ASX:RHY) may be an important part of a solution.

It is developing a simple, easy-to-use blood test for colorectal cancer.

Currently the initial screening option for bowel cancer is a stool test — a faecal immune test that looks for blood in the faeces — but many people don’t like taking it.

Melbourne-based Rhythm’s technology, now known as ColoSTAT, was developed and patented by CSIRO in a thirteen year research program.

It was licensed to the company for commercialisation in 2017.

Following a $9 million IPO in December last year the company believes it is only two years away from submitting applications for regulatory approval for the test in Europe and Australia.

CEO and managing director Dr Trevor Lockett says people over 50 have a much greater chance of developing bowel cancer, but only 39 per cent of people offered free faeces-based testing by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program actually take it up.

Participation rates are increasing, but across Europe, Australia and the US combined, 130 million people don’t receive colorectal cancer screening.

The survival rate is 90 per cent if caught early, yet in 2015 bowel cancer was still the second highest cancer killer in Australia after lung cancer.

More than 15,000 new cases are diagnosed in Australia each year.

Country people are more likely to get bowel cancer

The screening issue is also a regional one.

Country Western Australia has the highest incidence zones for colorectal cancer among the over-50s, according to the Bowel Cancer Atlas of Australia.

The other locations were almost all country areas in Tasmania, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory.


Disease progression of colorectal cancer. Graphic: Rhythm Biosciences

Also at risk of late colorectal cancer detection are Indigenous Australians.

The Cancer Australia data shows that indigenous Australians are least likely to have cancer caught early, and they are falling into the 42 per cent of people who are diagnosed with later stage disease (Stages 3 or 4).

Stage 1 is a localised disease, and Stage 4 is a disease that has and is spreading.

Rhythm says once its product development is complete it has two key studies to complete before it can seek regulatory approval to commercialise its diagnostic test, the last being a 500-1000-patient trial scheduled for 2019 to assess the clinical performance.

With regulatory approval secured, it will launch its test, which is complementary to the faecal test, into the market, in the hope that it will encourage more people to be tested for a highly curable cancer.


This special report is brought to you by Rhythm Biosciences.

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