shutterstockThe dreaded colonoscopy—more invasive than a mammogram, more uncomfortable than a pap smear. Don’t forget all the prep work, either. Cleaning out your digestive tract over a matter of hours will mean more toilet time than a vicious bout of stomach flu. Which is why eliminating the colon cleansing and doing the screen in the privacy of your own home has so much appeal. Cologuard (FIT-DNA test)—approved by the FDA in 2014—claims to offer just that. Just don’t get your hopes up too high.
“Patients who have a personal history of polyps or colon cancer should not use Cologuard for screening,” says Laurel Fisher, MD, professor of Clinical Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “In addition, patients who have a higher than normal risk of colon cancer—for example, a strong family history—may elect to proceed directly to colonoscopy.” That’s because it remains the gold standard of colorectal cancer screening methods for its ability to view the entire colon and both detect and remove polyps during the same procedure, according to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (AGSE).
“But Cologuard is a good alternative colon cancer screening test for patients who have no underlying risk factors or for patients who are medically unable or unwilling,” says Fisher.
This is especially important when a 2013 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates about one in three adults between the ages of 50 and 75 years old are failing to get their recommended screen for colorectal cancer. And new guidelines released by the AGSE suggest screening beginning at age 45 for the African Americans.
Just remember, says Dr. Fisher: If the Cologuard test results are positive, you’ll need to follow up with an actual colonoscopy exam.
If you do decide to try the Cologuard, here’s what to expect:
The test runs around $600, but your insurance will cover around $500 of that, according to the Mayo Clinic. After the kit arrives in the mail, your first order of business is to do your business. Cologuard needs a BM sample to test, and taking a number two is the way to get it. There’s even a special container that attaches under your toilet rim that will do the collecting for you, hands-free. Once you’re done, you scrape the surface of your sample with the included probe, and then seal it in a plastic tube.
The fun isn’t over yet. Cover the rest of your stool—still in the container—with stool preservative (included). Tightly screw the lid onto the container, label everything, seal the box, and you’re ready to ship your sample back for testing in the prepaid overnight UPS box. (You have up to 72 hours to return it—who really who wants that hanging around?) Your doctor should have your results back in about two weeks.