New colon cancer screening tool

If you’re one of those people who shudders at the thought of a colonoscopy, there might be another option for you. It’s a new DNA screening test for colorectal cancer. Called Cologuard, it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August 2014 and may soon be covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Cologuard works by detecting red blood cells and DNA mutations in stool that may indicate the presence of certain kinds of polyps, or abnormal growths, in the colon. Such growths may be cancerous or likely to become cancerous. Studies show Cologuard is more precise than the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a commonly used noninvasive screening test that also detects blood in the stool. My primary care doctor has me use a FIT kit when a colonoscopy is not part of my annual checkup.

More than 10,000 people were part of the study that helped the FDA approve the new screening method. Cologuard detected 92 percent of colorectal cancers and 42 percent of advanced adenomas (a type of precancerous polyp) in the study population. The FIT screening test detected 74 percent of cancers and 24 percent of advanced adenomas.

Cologuard showed one drawback: slightly more false positives than with the FIT screening tool. False positive test results can lead to unnecessary worry and additional testing, including a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is still the gold standard when it comes to screening tools for colon cancer.  During a colonoscopy, doctors are able to not only identify precancerous polyps, but also remove them before they have a chance to become something more serious. But if you’re determined not to get a colonoscopy unless you absolutely have to, Cologuard may be for you.

Just be sure to do something when it’s time for you to get checked for colon cancer. It’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that if everyone age 50 or older had regular screening tests as recommended, at least 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided.