New colon cancer screening test can be done in privacy of own home

DETROIT – Many people worry colon cancer screening tests are going to be uncomfortable or inconvenient.

That should not keep people from getting tested. Now there is a new test that can be done in the privacy of your home to detect colon cancer using advanced DNA analysis of the cells in your stool.

Mel Burley, 80, avoided having a colonoscopy for decades.

“If the opportunity was there I didn’t pay any attention to it” he said.

According to Dr. Craig Reickert, a colon-rectal surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, for a person at average risk for colon cancer checks should start at age 50. They might include a colonoscopy, stool tests for blood, DNA tests of the stool, sigmoidoscopy, or barium enema.

That's a slew of options, but Dr. Reickert says one stands out.

“The test that we think is most effective is the colonoscopy. That lets you check the entire colon lining for polyps and remove them at the same time," he said. 

But Burley wasn't excited about the prospect of a colonoscopy, so his doctor suggested the newest option: the stool DNA test known as Cologuard. Reickert didn’t order Burley’s test, but said, “I'm pretty comfortable recommending it to people who absolutely refuse to get a colonoscopy for whatever reason despite my best sale speech."

"I also recommend it because it's better than doing nothing," he said.

Reickert says the DNA test is, “a much better test for average risk people (who) for whatever reason can't be a good candidate for colonoscopy.” But he adds, “the DNA test is not a good test for people who have had polyps before or who (are in) high risk group.”

Burley was a good candidate and his doctor ordered the test. Here’s how he described the process:

"A box came in the mail, opened it up, followed the instructions, deposited a sample, sealed it up the same way, sent it back postage prepaid.”

“It was in the privacy of your own home, you could do it when you wanted to do it, nobody was there and it was very simple to do," he said. 

The lab does the rest and you get a result in a week or two. 

"The advantage of that test is that we actually check the stool for DNA from the cells that are pre-cancerous or cancerous, so it's much more specific for colon cancer than the test only looking for blood," said Dr. Reickert.

Burley’s test was abnormal and that led him to have a colonoscopy which found abnormal polyps requiring surgery. 

"It saved my life," he said.

It led him to the colonoscopy he was reluctant to get initially. 

Because the Cologuard test is new it is not covered by all insurances, so you might want to check on that first since it can cost more than $600.