Medical institutions across the United States will begin recruiting volunteers next month for a study that its investigators and outside observers describe as groundbreaking. They say it is the first large-scale trial to test the feasibility of using DNA shed by tumors to find early-stage cancer. During the three-year government-funded project, researchers will analyze DNA from stool samples to detect patterns characteristic of colorectal cancer (CRC).

The study will have two other notable features. To be cost-efficient, the vast majority of studies that try to associate DNA alterations with cancer look at people at high risk of getting the disease or already suffering from it. But to determine stool DNA's value as a broad screening agent, the new project will instead draw its 4,000 subjects from the general population. In another departure, the study will use DNA changes as a springboard for finding cancer, not for treating it. "There's probably...

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