Test Makes Colon Cancer Screenings More Accessible

Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy live on the Today show in 2000, but the average American won’t get one, even in the relative privacy of a physician’s office. The procedure can be frightening, costly and uncomfortable.

A new test, added to the American Cancer Society guidelines this spring, could make screening less troublesome for the nearly 50 percent of Americans 50 and older who aren’t being tested for colon cancer, the nation’s second leading cause of cancer death.

“There’s a very clear problem,” says Sanford Markowitz, M.D., Ph.D., a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine professor and attending physician at University Hospitals in Cleveland. “No one should die of colon cancer if it’s diagnosed in the early stages, but it becomes highly incurable if the cancer spreads beyond the colon.”

The new test, developed by a Markowitz-led team, looks for abnormal DNA in a patient’s stool to indicate colon cancer. The test, currently marketed as ColoSure and produced by Laboratory Corporation of America, retails for about $225. Markowitz says a colonoscopy, which can cost upwards of $1,000, is still the gold standard for detection.

Stool DNA tests pick up 80 percent of colon cancer. They can miss some polyps and produce some false positives, says Markowitz, who notes that if stool DNA test results come back abnormal, the patient ultimately will have to undergo a colonoscopy.

But Markowitz adds that while a colonoscopy may be more reliable at this time, it isn’t effective if patients aren’t getting the screenings they need.

“If we can roll out this new test successfully,” Markowitz says, “we can help a large underserved population and put a real dent in colon cancer deaths.”

Case Western Reserve and Markowitz will receive a share of royalties from the new test.