At-Home Screening Test for Colon Cancer

Testing yourself for colon cancer is now easier and more accurate. Cologuard is a do-it-yourself kit that allows you to collect your stool sample in the privacy of your home. The FDA approved it in 2014.

How Does It Work?

Once your doctor orders the test, a kit is shipped to your home. You collect a stool sample and mail it to a lab in a prepaid, pre-addressed box. The lab will then send results to your doctor within 2 weeks.

What Does the Test Do?

It determines if there’s blood in your stool -- a common sign of colon cancer or of precancerous polyps (abnormal growths of tissue). The lab workers will also look for DNA cell changes linked to cancer.

Colon cancer is preventable if pre-cancerous polyps are found and removed.

Should I Take It?

Men and women 50 or older need to ask their doctor what type of screening test is right for them.

You should get a colonoscopy test if you have any of these risk factors:

  • A family history of colon cancer
  • A previous diagnosis
  • Related diseases of the colon and rectum

During a colonoscopy, your doctor will use a flexible tube and small camera to look at the lining of your colon.

Experts still say the best way to screen for colon cancer and prevent the disease is to have a colonoscopy every 10 years.

What if My At-Home Test Finds Cancer?

If your Cologuard test has positive findings, your doctor will do a colonoscopy to confirm the results and  to remove any precancerous or cancerous growths, if you have them.

What if My Test Says I Don't Have Colon Cancer?

You should still get screening tests. One option for colon cancer screening recommended by the American Cancer Society is a stool DNA test every 3 years.

How Does Cologuard Compare to Other At-Home Colon Cancer Tests?

Other at-home tests require you to prep your body. With Cologuard, you don’t have to follow a special diet or take laxatives or enemas (to clear your colon) before you collect your stool sample. It’s also more accurate than others.

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In a clinical trial that screened 10,000 people, Cologuard found more cancer cases than another commonly used test, the fecal immunochemical blood test. The April 2014 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine also showed that Cologuard found more precancerous growths.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Cologuard, like other screening methods, can give incorrect results. It can indicate that you have colon cancer or precancerous polyps when you actually don't. Or it can say you don't have a potential problem when you really do, and the test just missed it.

A colonoscopy can miss polyps, but the odds are very low. That's why many doctors still consider this test the gold standard.

Does Insurance Cover Cologuard?

In October 2014, Medicare decided to cover the test every 3 years for people ages 50 to 85. That’s as long as you don’t have an increased risk of colon cancer or symptoms of it.

If you have private health insurance, call your provider to ask if the test is covered. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “American Cancer Society recommendations for colorectal cancer early detection,” “Colorectal cancer screening -- insurance coverage,” “Experimental colon cancer tests pass FDA panel review,” “Stool DNA testing for colon cancer,” “Tests that mainly find colorectal cancer,” “Tests to detect colorectal cancer and polyps,” “Understanding tests that screen for colon cancer.”

Colon Cancer Alliance: “Colon Health Alert: FDA approves new CRC screening test,” “Update: Cologuard stool DNA screening test.”

Eric Hargis, CEO, Colon Cancer Alliance.

Mark Schattner, MD, gastroenterologist, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

National Cancer Institute: “Tests to detect colorectal cancer and polyps.”

TheNew England Journal of Medicine, April 3, 2014.

News release, FDA.

News release, Exact Sciences.

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