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Highly Accurate At-Home Colon Cancer Test Approved

DNA analysis of stool boosts accuracy rate of Cologuard to more than 90 percent, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved a new at-home, DNA-based stool test that screens for colorectal cancer with more than 90 percent accuracy.

The decision was based on an FDA panel's unanimous decision in March that the benefits of Exact Sciences Corp.'s Cologuard test outweighed its risks.

"This approval offers patients and physicians another option to screen for colorectal cancer," Alberto Gutierrez, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release.

"Fecal blood testing is a well-established screening tool and the clinical data showed that the test detected more cancers than a commonly used fecal occult [blood] test," he said.

At the same time, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that it would review the potential for nationwide coverage of the Cologuard test. The agency is proposing that the stool test be covered for people aged 50 to 85 who have no symptoms of colorectal disease and who are at average risk for colon cancer.

"This is the first time in history that FDA has approved a technology and CMS has proposed national coverage on the same day," Patrick Conway, chief medical officer and deputy administrator for innovation and quality for CMS, said in the news release.

Last year, nearly 143,000 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in the United States and almost 50,000 Americans died of the disease, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

A study published in March in the New England Journal of Medicine found Cologuard had a very high accuracy rate in spotting colon cancer.

An accurate, noninvasive test would be a huge addition to the fight against colon cancer, experts say. That's because one-third of Americans fail to heed public health recommendations to undergo invasive colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50, explained study co-author Dr. Steven Itzkowitz, director of the gastroenterology fellowship program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Commonly used stool tests such as FIT (fecal immunochemical testing) rely on detecting blood in the stool. The new Cologuard test checks for blood as well as abnormal DNA, "with the advantage that some lesions, even cancers, don't bleed very much," Itzkowitz explained.

But the Cologuard test also features a DNA analysis not included in other fecal exams.

"By increasing the pick-up rate in this way," said Itzkowitz, "we found that the new test had a 92 percent sensitivity for detection of colorectal cancer. That kind of result is really unprecedented for a noninvasive stool-based screening."

The research was funded by Exact Sciences Corp., which is based in Madison, Wisc.

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