Newswise — A new study developed at the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancer Research and the Center for Epigenetics, Cancer Prevention and Cancer Genomics at Baylor Research Institute has discovered unique metastasis-specific microRNA signatures in primary colorectal cancers that could predict prognosis and distant metastasis in colorectal cancer.

The study, published January 30 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, originally identified the need for specific biomarkers that could predict outcomes of colorectal cancer distant metastasis in order for physicians to suggest more effective therapies. It is the second stage in a long-term colorectal cancer study, which first developed a blood test for finding cancer-related microRNA before a tumor develops in the colon.

“The challenge is when it comes to colon cancer, it’s still a very common cancer,” said Ajay Goel, PhD, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancer Research and for Epigenetics and Cancer Prevention at Baylor Research Institute. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, with distant metastasis being the major cause of mortality and serious morbidity in cancer patients. “Fifty percent of people in the U.S. aren’t following recommended guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. The good news is this disease doesn’t happen overnight.”

Results from the study would help determine which colorectal cancer patients have a high risk of developing distant metastases, of which liver metastasis is the most common manifestation. With these findings, oncologists can better predict which patients need more extensive treatment to avoid overtreating — or undertreating — colorectal cancer in patients.

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” said Dr. Goel. “The fundamental basis is trying to understand who has a risk of developing colorectal cancer, and then understanding which patients have higher risks of their cancer spreading to lymph nodes and other distant organs.”

A third phase of Dr. Goel’s and the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab’s study is currently underway, and Dr. Goel hopes to report new findings within the next couple of years. Researchers will take the results from the blood test and metastasis-specific microRNA study to develop markers for identifying different stages of colorectal cancer, as well as which drugs best treat those stages. If Dr. Goel and his team are successful in finding these markers, the results could help establish individualized treatment—and, ultimately, start treating the right type of cancer with the right type of drug.

About Baylor Scott & White HealthBaylor Scott & White Health, the organization formed from the 2013 merger between Baylor Health Care System and Scott & White Healthcare, is today the largest not-for-profit health care system in the state of Texas. With total assets of $9 billion* and serving a population larger than the state of Virginia, Baylor Scott & White Health has the vision and resources to provide its patients continued quality care while creating a model system for a dramatically changing health care environment. The organization now includes 49 hospitals, more than 800 access points, more than 5,800 active physicians, 35,000 employees and the Scott & White Health Plan. For More Information visit:

* based on unaudited 2014 fiscal year statements