New Tool Estimates Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Calculator provides personalized estimate for patients

man holding calculator

The screening guidelines for colorectal cancer are pretty much one size fits all. They  recommend that everyone seek screening at the age of 50.

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But a new tool allows doctors to predict an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.

This can help doctors decide when screenings are necessary for each of their patients.

Brian J. Wells, MD, PhD, of the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences in Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, led a team of researchers to develop the calculator. The tool’s name is CRC-PRO, which stands for Colorectal Cancer Predicted Risk Online.

The team analyzed data on more than 180,000 patients who researchers followed for up to 11 years. The data identified strong links between risk factors and development of colorectal cancer.

Dr. Wells and his team developed separate calculators for men and women.

The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine published results of the team’s research. The results showed the tool is accurate and user-friendly.

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Cancer risk differs drastically among racial groups. However, most previous research involved Caucasian participants.

“Creating a risk calculator that includes multiple risk factors offers clinicians a means to more accurately predict risk than the simple age-based cutoffs currently used in clinical practice,” Dr. Wells says. “Clinicians could decide to screen high-risk patients earlier than age 50, while delaying or foregoing screening in low-risk individuals.” 

Dr. Wells and his colleagues hope their new calculator will help to improve the efficiency of colorectal cancer screenings. They also believe prediction tools like this can help lower healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary testing.

Michael Kattan, PhD, Chair of the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences in Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, was among the researchers who developed the tool.

Dr. Kattan’s own unexpected diagnosis of Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma while in the early years of his doctorate program drove him to help physicians better predict an individual’s cancer risk and use that information to develop a personalized prevention strategy.

Dr. Kattan’s motivation was the inaccuracy of cancer staging systems at the time of his diagnosis.

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Staging systems are physical exams, imaging procedures, laboratory tests, pathology reports and surgical reports that help doctors determine the cancer’s severity.

Dr. Kattan ultimately beat his cancer using early versions of these risk calculators, which led to him abruptly changing his career path from financial prediction to healthcare

 “Developing risk prediction calculators like the CRC-PRO is vital for improving medical decision-making,” Dr. Kattan says. “Tools like this represent another step toward personalized medicine that will ultimately improve efficiency, outcomes and patient care.” 

Dr. Kattan and his research team are creating a number of risk prediction tools for other diseases, including heart disease and cancers of the breast, prostate and thyroid. These tools are available online. He also is working on software that will integrate these tools for automatic calculation in the Electronic Health Record to make this process easier for physicians.

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