90% of colon cancer cases in the US are diagnosed in patients 50 years old and older. However, recent studies show a rising incidence of colon cancer in younger adults. Bowel cancer found in ages 20 – 30 rose between 1990 and 2016, increasing as much 7.9% per year between 2004 and 2016 (source).
With various screening options available, logistical and financial barriers no longer stand in the way of getting screened. One of the most popular options is at-home colon cancer screening tests.
But just how effective are they? Colon cancer screening kits can have an accuracy rate of up to 92% with only a 5% chance of false-positives.
With something this affordable and accessible, medical practitioners are hoping to see a consistent drop in mortality rates caused by colon cancer. And with at-home colon cancer screening tests, patients no longer have to go out of their way to get tested.
The Importance Of Colon Cancer Screening
Survival rates of colon cancer patients are significantly higher when the disease is still in a localized stage. Within five-years, patients in this stage have a 90% chance of survival. This gets lower as the cancer spreads throughout the body.
Colon cancer evolves from polyps, which are growths on the lining of the colon. When caught early, these polyps can be removed, preventing them from developing into colon cancer.
Getting screened means patients can avoid and even get cured for colon cancer (source). Dr. John Saltzman, who is a director of endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, affirms that: “If you get them at the precancerous phase, they don’t have a chance to grow and turn into cancer.”
Why Choose At-Home Colon Cancer Tests
Despite various options for colon cancer screening, even those at an average to high risk don’t get tested until they start exhibiting progressive symptoms. The reason for this is simple: colonoscopies and other procedures are relatively expensive and require a lot of preparation.
With at-home colon cancer tests, candidates can get screened and tested in the comfort of their own home. Listed below are other advantages of at-home screening:
- With the exception of guaiac fecal occult blood testing (gFOBT), at-home colon cancer tests have no dietary restrictions
- Samples can be conveniently collected at home
- The procedure is non-invasive. There is no need for surgery, rectum insertion, or the injection of dyes
- Bowel cleansing is not required
- Cost is low and affordable, even without the help of medical insurance
- Samples are typically sent or dropped off at the laboratory. There is little to no waiting time required since results are delivered through call or on appointment
- Patients can choose between tests that require doctor prescription and those that are readily available over-the-counter
Do They Work?
At-home screening is normally suggested to be taken alongside colonoscopies and other methods of testing. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that at-home colon cancer screening, specifically the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) may produce more accurate results than a colonoscopy (source).
The lead author notes that the FIT was able to positively identify colon cancer in 75-80% of the individuals. In comparison, colonoscopies are known to have a 95% detection rate.
How do these numbers translate in terms of efficacy? Taking into consideration cost and preparation time, patients are naturally averse towards taking colonoscopies for the simple reason that they take time. On the other hand, at-home colon cancer screening doesn’t pose the same barriers.
Because they are repeatable and affordable, at-risk individuals can test yearly, which further increases its credibility as a screening method.
People with average risk should have a colonoscopy every ten years. It’s important to note that polyps can evolve into colon cancer in 7 to 10 year’s time. But with at-home screening methods such as FIT, among others, patients can test yearly and keep track of their digestive tract health more rigorously.
How Accurate Are Home Colon Cancer Tests?
Depending on the test being taken, the accuracy of at-home CRC screening kits can go up to 90%. When taken alongside other screening methods, at-home testing becomes fool-proof.
Here’s how it usually works:
- Patients who exhibit symptoms such as rectal bleeding, progressive constipation and abdominal cramps, as well as irregular bowel movement may ask their doctors for prescriptions for CRC kits. Note that symptoms are rarely apparent in colon cancer, making anyone eligible for testing even without evident abnormalities
- Your doctor either prescribes a test or you choose one from the pharmacy. We suggest choosing prescription-only tests in order to maximize your resources
- In the case of hemoccult tests, blood that is invisible to the naked eye is detected. While unable to identify polyps, the test can distinguish the presence of blood in the stool. This information helps doctors understand the state of your gastrointestinal health
- On the other hand, stool DNA tests look for abnormal DNA in your stool. Polyps in the colon shed blood and cells, which can become evident in your stool.
Limitations Of At-Home CRC Screening
At-home CRC kits are fully equipped with everything you need to identify either polyps, abnormal cell DNA, or bleeding. We recommend using more than one type to improve the accuracy of your results.
While useful in determining pre-cancer warnings, these are not to be treated as definitive diagnosis for colon cancer. Patients who test positive for at-home screening tests are required to take a colonoscopy in order to reach a conclusive diagnosis.
Learn more about colonoscopy procedure at Gastro Center NJ.
Even with these limitations, At-home kits remain to be useful and potentially life-saving, especially for individuals who are not aware of existing genetic disorders that may increase their risk of developing colon cancer.
Vice President of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, Dr. Robert Smith, even notes that annual at-home testing can be as effective as colonoscopies (source).
How Much Do CRC Tests Cost?
In-house screening methods are the last thing from affordable. Colonoscopies can cost up to $3,000. Meanwhile, sigmoidoscopies range from $900 to $2,000.
In comparison, fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) can go as low as $4 per test. A more “advanced” kind of at-home testing can cost $8 per test. The Cologuard, which is considered to be the most expensive at-home testing kit, retails at $649. However, that price can still vary depending on the patient’s health insurance.
Self-screening kits for CRC are available in pharmacies. These can also be purchased online through Amazon. Consult your doctor for best home colon cancer screening kits available on the market.
Choosing the Right At-Home Colon Cancer Test
There are three kinds of at-home colon cancer tests available for use. These are:
|Name||How It Works||How to Use||Effectivity||Cost|
|Cologuard||Looks for traces of blood shed by polyps or growth along the colon lining||Take one stool sample, ship it to your chosen lab||Cologuard was able to detect 42% of high-risk precancers and 92% of colon cancers||Covered by Medicare|
|Guaiac fecal occult blood testing (gFOBT)||Uses a chemical indicator that changes in color when blood is present in the stool||Collect separate bowel samples from separate bowel movements.||The gFOBT is known to have reduced colon cancer mortalities by up to 25%||Anywhere from $5 to $60|
|Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)||Utilizes antibodies in detecting hemoglobin||Collect the stool onto a collection card (avg. three cards) from separate bowel movements||Recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology as the better colorectal cancer detection test||Anywhere from $10 to $200|
Cologuard: the only FDA-approved stool DNA test
Cologuard is covered by Medicare, Medicare Advantages, as well as Medicaid in specific states (click here for the complete list). Cologuard is also in partnership with various private insurance companies. Contact your provider to learn more about deductibles and refundables.
Cologuard was able to detect 42% of high-risk precancers and 92% of colon cancers in their study of 10,000 people. The test was also able to detect positive signs of cancer or growth in 13% of people without cancer or precancer.
How to Use
Doctors order Cologuard on your behalf. Once the arrangement is done, expect the test kit to arrive at your doorstep. According to the instructions, only one stool sample is required. No dietary or medication changes are necessary. Ship the sample to your chosen lab, as specified in the instructions. Results are sent back in 2 weeks.
How It Works
Cologuard looks for traces of blood shed by polyps or growth along the colon lining. More importantly, Cologuard is the only at-home screening kit that can identify abnormal DNA just with stool alone.
Guaiac fecal occult blood testing (gFOBT)
Depending on the brand you choose, gFOBT tests can cost anywhere from $5 to $60.
The gFOBT is known to have reduced colon cancer mortalities by up to 25%.
How To Use
Patients are provided with three test cards. More test cards may be given depending on race, age, and overall risk factor. Separate bowel samples are collected from separate bowel movements. Be wary of adding water or urine to the sample since this may influence test results. Dietary restrictions are also applicable to preserve the accuracy of the results
How It Works
The gFOBT is similar to the FIT in that both tests are able to detect bleeding in the stool. This test uses a chemical indicator that changes in color when blood is present.
Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
Depending on the brand you choose, FITs can cost anywhere from $10 to $200.
FIT is commonly preferred over gFOBT, and has been recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology as the better colorectal cancer detection test.
How to Use
No dietary or medical restrictions apply to an FIT. A special device included in the kit is designed to collect the stool onto a collection card. An average of three samples are collected from three separate bowel movements.
How It Works
FIT utilizes antibodies in detecting hemoglobin. If hemoglobin is present, the test can confirm signs of anemia or bleeding in the colon, which can be a sign of early polyp growth.
A Single Swipe Can Save Your Life
Talk to us and learn more about at-home colon cancer screening and on-site testing today.