Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., yet it's a disease that is highly treatable with preventative screening. Colon cancer screening is effective at minimizing the risk of death, but many Americans avoid it because of the unpleasant nature of the test. Now, a new home test could change all of that, making colon cancer screening better — if not pleasant, than at least less invasive and more accessible to millions of Americans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if every American adult over age 50 were screened for colon cancer, the death toll from the disease could be reduced by 60 percent. Yet many adults avoid the colonoscopy exam because of its less-than-pleasant nature. In a colonoscopy, doctors insert a tiny camera into the large intestine where it can check for growths and polyps. In order for doctors to see what's really going on in there, patients must completely "clean out" the intestines in preparation, using laxatives and if necessary, an enema.
It's no wonder that most adults avoid this procedure.
Now, Americans who have shied away from the dreaded colonoscopy can get a home screening test that is noninvasive and does not require laxatives or the other icky preparation required for the traditional exam. The new home colon cancer screening, called Cologuard (pictured at right), was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration and will be offered by prescription at the Mayo Clinic where it was developed, and soon nationwide.
Cologuard works by looking for blood and cancer-related DNA in the stool, finding that could indicate a tumor. The test even mounts directly onto the toilet seat so that the stool sample can be — shall we say deposited —without direct handling. The samples are then sent to a lab and the results are returned within about two weeks. Patients with positive test results are advised to undergo a diagnostic colonoscopy.
In clinical trials, Cologuard detected 92 percent of cancer and polyps in the colon, and 69 percent of high-risk pre-cancers.
And if it helps people get screened when they would have otherwise avoided it, it could be responsible for saving millions of American lives.
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