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New At-Home Screening Option for Colon Cancer

January 15, 2015

About 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer each year. Sadly, many of these diagnoses are made after a person begins exhibiting to have symptoms. Thus, 60 percent of colon cancers are diagnosed in advanced stages, too late for surgical cure.  In fact, colon cancer is referred to as the most preventable, yet least-prevented cancer in the United States. It also is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the nation. The key to saving lives is for patients to be screened on a regular basis, before cancer has a chance to develop or progress, and well before there are any symptoms.

Colonoscopy, which uses a scope to look at the inside of the large intestine, is the “gold standard” for screening for colon cancer. This is recommended by the US Preventative Services Task Force for all people age 50 to 75, and some older patients, every 10 years. An alternative is to have stool checked for blood (the FIT Test) every year. Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 23 million Americans over the age of 50 do not get screened as recommended. Thus, many colon cancers that could have been found early and removed for a surgical cure, become deadly advanced-stage cancers.

Now, there’s a new form of colon cancer screening that could encourage more people to get screened, leading to more early detections and more lives saved. Cologuard, a new noninvasive colon cancer screening test, can be taken at home by patients who are at average risk for developing the disease. It provides a convenient and discreet form of testing for those who may be uncomfortable with the concept of colonoscopy or who have difficulty taking time off work to get tested.

How Cologuard Works

Cologuard is very simple: a collection kit is sent to a patient’s home and he or she submits a stool sample to a lab in a prepaid, preaddressed package via UPS drop-off or pick-up. Your doctor then receives the results within two weeks and reviews them with you.

Unlike colonoscopy, which offers a visual inspection of the interior of your colon, Cologuard detects DNA from abnormal precancerous or cancerous cells shed by the lining of your colon. The test is FDA approved and available by prescription. It is fully covered by Medicare at this time. In one clinical study, Cologuard detected 92 percent of colorectal cancers and 69 percent of high-risk pre-cancers in average-risk patients, a higher detection rate than the FIT stool test.

Cologuard is a promising development in the fight against colon cancer. Many doctors have trouble convincing their patients to get screened, but Cologuard is a discreet option that requires no doctor’s visits, no time off from work and no sedation.

Who Should Get Screened?

All people aged 50 to 75 (and some older patients as well) should be screened regularly for colon cancer. for colon cancer screening, but this new at-home option could complement it. Cologuard is an option for “average risk patients” who have no medical condition or family history that puts them at increased risk of colon cancer. Cologuard makes the screening process easier for even the most timid of patients, as it doesn’t require any medication, dietary restrictions or bowel preparation. If Cologuard’s test results indicate any abnormalities, your doctor will order a colonoscopy to identify whether you actually do have cancer or precancer.

If you are one of the 23 million Americans putting yourself at risk by avoiding colonoscopy, you should consider Cologuard. Survival rates for colon cancer are over 90 percent when detected early versus 12 percent when detected in the late stages, so not getting screened is dangerous. If you or a loved one are 50 or over and have not been screened for colon cancer, please talk with your doctor today.