New home test shakes up colon cancer screening

Marilynn Marchione
Associated Press

The home test is the first to look for cancer-related DNA in stool, and was approved by the FDA last month.

Starting Monday, millions of people who have avoided colon cancer screening can get a new home test that's noninvasive and doesn't require the icky preparation most other methods do.

The test is the first to look for cancer-related DNA in stool. But deciding whether to get it is a more complex choice than ads for "the breakthrough test … that's as easy as going to the bathroom" make it seem.

On one hand, the test could greatly boost screening for a deadly disease that too few people get checked for now.

On the other hand, it could lure people away from colonoscopies and other tests that, unlike the new one, have been shown to save lives.

It might even do both.

"It looks promising," but its impact on cancer risk and survival isn't known, said Dr. Barnett Kramer, a National Cancer Institute screening expert.

David Smith, 67, a retired teacher from Northfield, Minnesota, shows the test's potential. He has never been screened for colon cancer and his doctor ran through the options, including a barium enema or a scope exam.

When the doctor mentioned the new DNA test, "I said, well, sign me up," Smith said.

The test was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month and will be offered by prescription at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where it was developed, and soon nationwide. It's called Cologuard and is sold by Exact Sciences Corp. of Madison, Wisconsin. Mayo Clinic and one of its doctors get royalties from the test.