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Grant supports testing of new cancer detection programme

Traces of cancer can be detected both earlier – by approximately nine months – and more effectively with a new blood test developed by researchers from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital. The next step is to establish whether a new detection programme can uncover colorectal cancer relapses earlier and thereby save the lives of more patients. The study is supported by the Innovation Fund Denmark.

2019.10.25 | Mette Louise Ohana

[Translate to English:] Claus Lindbjerg Andersen

Professor Claus Lindbjerg Andersen from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital is heading the national study which also involves all the colorectal cancer treatment centres in Denmark. Photo: Anita Graversen

If cancerous DNA remains in the blood of patients following an operation for colorectal cancer, it is a sign of residual disease and the patient will almost certainly become ill again. Unfortunately, the disease is discovered so late that fewer than one in ten patients who have a relapse are still alive five years later. 

Researchers at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital have now developed a test that is can examine whether cancerous DNA is present. One perspective is a new detection programme that can discover the cancer far earlier and thereby save the lives of many more patients. 

Until now, the challenge facing relapse detection has been an inability to predict who had residual disease and who did not. This has meant a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer detection programme being used for everyone. 

The new programme for cancer detection will now be compared to the existing programme. The four-year research project has received DKK 12.6 from the Innovation Fund Denmark.

Concentrating resources on high-risk patients

In the new cancer detection programme, blood samples from all the patients are regularly examined and if cancerous DNA is discover, the patients are placed in an intensified follow-up and treatment programme. Meanwhile, patients who have been cured and do not have cancerous DNA in their blood – which is fortunately the vast majority – avoid unnecessary scans.

“What we want to do with the study is examine whether the blood sample guided relapse detection leads to better survival rates and better quality of life for the individual patient, and at the same time, better utilisation of the healthcare system’s resources compared to the one-size-fits-all detection that is the current standard,” says Claus Lindbjerg Andersen, who is professor at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital and head of the study.

It is not yet known whether the new detection programme is adequate for altering the treatment and making it more effective. Previous studies carried out by the researchers have shown that the blood sample test can discover cancerous DNA in the blood up to 16 months before the relapses would be discovered using the current relapse detection programme. 

About the study

The IMPROVE-IT2 study is a national study with the participation of all colorectal cancer treatment centres in the Danish regions. The other participants in the study are: Genodesk Aps; DaCHE – Danish Centre for Health Economics, University of Southern Denmark; The Joint Surgical Department, Randers Regional Hospital; and the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and the Department of Molecular Medicine at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital. The official title of the study is: “IMPROVE Intervention Trial 2: Implementing non-invasive circulating tumor DNA analysis to optimize the operative and postoperative treatment for patients with colorectal cancer (IMPROVE-IT2)”. The Innovation Fund Denmark is supporting the study with DKK 12.6 million, while the remainder is being contributed by the parties behind the study, including funding from the Danish Cancer Society and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. 


Professor Claus Lindbjerg Andersen
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Molecular Medicine
Mobile: (+45) 2980 4321
Email: cla@clin.au.dk

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