In most cases, the earlier you detect cancer, the greater your chances of survival. In recent years a number of devices have been designed to help people regularly test for cancer in their own homes. One such device is the “Cologuard” test kit that checks for the presence of colon cancer.
The test looks at human stools to ascertain if cancer related DNA is present. Colon cancer is an extremely common form of cancer, responsible for approximately 50’000 deaths annually in the United States. The most frequent test for colon cancer is the intrusive colonoscopy. Because of the intrusiveness of the test, many people delay or avoid colonoscopies, which is one of the reasons colon cancer kills so many people.
It’s important to note that this test is not a complete replacement for the colonoscopy, but a supplement to traditional testing. It may help catch the cancer earlier, if it develops between colonoscopies. But for people who avoid colonoscopies it may be the only test they perform.
The Cologuard test was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so will be available nationwide soon.
Cologard works by detecting anomalies in the DNA found in stools. The anomalies indicate the presence of precancerous growths called polyps. Traditionally, a test of this sort would be done at a laboratory. If polyps were found, it would be followed up with a colonoscopy. Adults over 50 should have their stools tested for signs of polyps every year.
Cologard is actually very accurate for finding signs of polyps. A study has found that it can detect 92% of colorectal cancers and 42% of growths. For a home test, that is a high level of accuracy.
Unfortunately, cologard has a higher than normal rate of false alarms. Cologard found false positives 13% of the time. Because a colonoscopy is suggested if a positive result is found, that could mean 13% of people have unnecessary colonoscopies. However, for people who have a family history of colorectal cancers that increase in false positives could be perfectly justified.
The unit costs about $600. Compare that to the cost of the less effective blood test at $25 a year and the more effective DNA test at $1800. It’s important to note that the DNA test only needs to be taken once every 3 years.
So it’s a tricky purchasing decision. If you are at increased risk of colorectal cancer it could be a great idea that might save your life. For other people, it’s less clear if cologard is worth the money.
It’s important to remember that colorectal cancers are extremely common in the United States and kill more than 50,000 people annually. Many people don’t get screened at all, so the cancer develops unchecked and eventually kills them. If you are hesitant about going to the doctor to have regular checkups, something like the cologard could save your life.