New home test to detect colorectal cancer

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Fifty thousand Americans will die from colorectal cancer this year. It's the second most common cause of cancer deaths, yet the vast majority of those deaths can be prevented with screening. The FDA has approved a simple, effective home test called Cologuard.

Colonoscopy is the gold standard for finding colorectal cancer and polyps that can turn into cancer. But it is invasive and requires anesthesia and bowel preparation. Millions of Americans 50 and older who should be screened don't get screened.

Dr. Rishi Grewal of Consultants in Gastroenterology says Cologuard should be a good option for people who can't go under anesthesia or won't have a colonoscopy.

"If people are adament -- hey, I'm never going to have a colonoscopy or had a bad experience or something like that -- for them, I would really strongly recommend it," said Dr. Grewal.

The doctor orders the test kit for you. It's sent to your home. You ship the lab a stool sample. Unlike older stool tests that check for blood, Cologuard analyzes both blood and DNA. One study found it was 92% effective in detecting colorectal cancer and 69% effective in detecting polyps most likely to become cancerous.

"We'll know more in about three to five years as more testing is done to see how good this test is compared to normal colonoscopy," said Dr. Grewal.

If Cologuard detects something, you'll still need colonoscopy to find the cancer and remove it. That's one reason why Dr. Grewal thinkns colonoscopy should remain the screening choice for most people until more is known. Also, about one in ten Cologuard tests has a false positive result meaning it detected cancer but follow-up testing found no cancer.

The new test will cost about $600. Medicare and Medicaid are considering covering it once every three years for people of average risk. Usually private insurers follow what Medicare and Medicaid do.

Screening guidelines for now recommend the older stool tests and colonoscopy starting at age 50 for people of average risk, and earlier if you have a family history or other risk factors.