Goodbye Colonoscopy?

Will there ever be an easier way to test for colon cancer? Read on to find out.

Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancers, but it’s also one that’s largely preventable through early detection. That’s why all adults should be screened starting at age 50 and every 5 to 10 years after that. Several screening tests are available to detect precancerous growths known as polyps and cancer including a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, and CT colonography.

Anyone who’s undergone one of these screenings can testify it wasn’t pleasant, but a do-it-yourself stool DNA test called Cologuard was released in 2014 and may change the way many people test for colon cancer.

Dreading your next colonoscopy? You may want to discuss Cologuard with your doctor to see if it’s a right fit for you. Here are the basics.

How It Works

One of the best things about Cologuard is that it can be done in the privacy of your own home. Your doctor puts in an order for the kit and it’s sent directly to your home. Once the test arrives, you place a small stool sample in a pre-paid, pre-addressed box that comes with the kit and mail it to the lab. Gross? Yes. But easier than a colonoscopy. Within two weeks, your doctor receives the results and contacts you. If the results are negative, continue having a stool DNA test every three years. In the case cancer is detected, your doctor will schedule a colonoscopy to confirm the findings and to remove any growths.

What It Tests

Like other parts of your body, the colon is continually shedding cells and forming new ones. If there are precancerous growths or cancer in your colon, then those abnormal cells will be shed and passed along with your stool. In many cases, blood that may be visible or invisible is also passed in the stool as a sign of polyps or cancer.

Cologuard has the advanced technology to detect traces of abnormal DNA cells or hemoglobin blood cells in stool samples. Find polyps early enough and you can prevent colon cancer.

Who’s Eligible

Unfortunately, Cologuard isn’t recommended for everyone as a replacement for the more unpleasant tests, so discuss your options with your doctor. In most cases, a colonoscopy is the preferred method of screening if colon cancer runs in your family, you’ve had colon cancer or polyps in the past, or if you have a colon or rectal disorder.

How It Compares

Other forms of screening usually require some sort of preparation (a special diet, enema, or laxative) to clear out your colon, but with Cologuard there are no unpleasant steps to take before collecting your stool sample.

While other at-home screening tests are available, Cologuard has proven more accurate and successful at detecting precancerous growths. A study of 10,000 patients showed Cologuard had a 92-percent success rate of finding colon cancer and was able to detect 69 percent of the polyps most likely to lead to cancer.

Unfortunately, Cologuard isn’t without weaknesses. While rare, a Cologuard test can give false results, detecting cancer or precancerous growths when there are none or overlooking a potential problem.

And before signing up for a Cologuard, check with your health insurance company to see if it is covered. Many private insurances don’t cover the costs, and without insurance coverage, expect to pay around $600 for the test.