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Volume 2, Number 1 ----- Spring/Summer 1999

From Lab to Life

Clinical trials allow scientists to apply new strategies from the laboratory bench to real human problems. Two recent examples illustrate how clinical trials can produce important--and sometimes lifesaving--advances in cancer care.

Fecal Occult Blood Testing for Colorectal Cancer

The Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) checks for the presence of hidden blood in the stool or feces, which may be an indicator of cancer in the colon or rectum. It is a simple test that people can perform in their own homes.

In 1975, the University of Minnesota (which is also a PLCO site) began a large clinical trial to determine whether screening with the FOBT would reduce the number of deaths due to colon cancer. This NCI-sponsored trial enrolled 46,551 participants ages 50 to 80. Scientists followed participants for 13 years.

After careful data analysis, this trial revealed two very important results:

Of course, no screening exam is perfect. Blood in the stool can result from many conditions other than colon cancer, so anyone with a positive FOBT must have more testing. However, results from the Minnesota trial show that cancer research is advancing ways to prevent deaths from common cancer killers like colorectal cancer.

Clinical Trials Add Years of Life to Women with Cervical Cancer

Recently released results of five large, randomized clinical trials showed that women with moderately advanced cervical cancer can live years longer if they are given chemotherapy with radiation. These results are so important that NCI took the unusual step of mailing information to thousands of doctors across the country to recommend an immediate change in the way cervical cancer is treated.

Until now, surgery or radiation alone has been considered standard treatment for this form of cancer. Scientists believe that the chemotherapy, delivered at the same time as the radiation, helps radiation treatments permanently damage DNA in cancer cells, thereby killing these cells.