If colon cancer screening tests are on your radar, and it should be if you are age 45 or older, you may be wondering about the best screening method.
The definition of “best” can vary from person to person:
- Is the test convenient?
- Does the test fit my budget?
- Does the test detect cancer?
- Does the test prevent cancer?
- Is the test good for people with a family history?
- Is the test good if I am having symptoms of colon cancer?
Over the last several years the introduction of an at-home colon cancer screening test, known in the scientific community as MTsDNA tests, have grown in popularity and been heralded by many as a suitable alternative to the longstanding gold standard of colorectal cancer screenings: the colonoscopy.
MTsDNA tests are shipped to the patient’s home where the patient submits a sample and drops the box back in the mail where it is sent to a lab for analysis. It sounds quite convenient. And, the manufacturers even advertise that it is less costly and only marginally less accurate at detection than a colonoscopy.
Researchers have put the MTsDNA screening kits to the test. Finding in several studies that these at-home screening tests fail to live up to the high standards of a colonoscopy and ultimately cost patients more money. (Naber, et. al., Pickhardt, Bailey, et. al)
A recent study, published in July 2019 in the journal Plos One, found that by when compared to all other colorectal cancer screening methods available—MTsDNA (i.e., at-home colon cancer screening tests) are “less effective and considerably more costly, making it an inefficient screening option.” (Naber, et.al)
Still the Gold Standard for Colon Cancer Screening for a Reason
These recent conclusions make it easy for consumers to decide on the best colon cancer screening method: the colonoscopy.
- A colonoscopy detects and prevents colorectal cancer.
- The whole process from prep to discharge takes less than 24 hours, that’s a pretty convenient timetable, sacrificing one day every five to 10 years to prevent.
- A colonoscopy is covered by most insurance plans at 100 percent for patients over the age of 50 and more insurers are offering 100 percent coverage at age 45 now that the American Cancer Society has lowered the screening age. Although MTsDNA screening kits are covered by insurance, a positive result means you have to get a diagnostic colonoscopy and the cost for that will be 100 percent your financial responsibility. Insurers only cover one colon cancer screening per patient per recommended frequency of the selected screening method.
- For uninsured patients or patients who have symptoms or a family history requiring a diagnostic colonoscopy, you can “shop” for a colonoscopy that fits your budget. Independent ASCs offer cash pricing and can provide estimates for pathology and anesthesia to help you budget for this lifesaving procedure. And, most independent ASCs offer procedures at a fraction of the cost hospitals charge.
- Depending on the outcome of your procedure, you will not need to come back for another colonoscopy for five to ten years, while a MTsDNA test is required every three years.
If you are over the age of 45, experiencing symptoms or have a family history of colorectal cancer, colon cancer screening options are a hot topic of conversation for you right now, and if it’s not, it should be. Don’t wait to save your life. A colonoscopy remains the most effective and affordable option for detecting and preventing colorectal cancer.
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Naber, S., Knudsen, A., Zauber, A., Rutter, C., Fischer, S., Pabiniak, C., Soto, B., Kuntz, K. and Lansdorp-Vogelaar, I. (2019). Cost-effectiveness of a multitarget stool DNA test for colorectal cancer screening of Medicare beneficiaries. [online] Plos One. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0220234.
Pickhardt, P. (2016). Emerging stool-based and blood-based non-invasive DNA tests for colorectal cancer screening: the importance of cancer prevention in addition to cancer detection. Abdominal Radiology, 41(8), pp.1441-1444.
Bailey, J., Aggarwal, A. and Imperiale, T. (2016). Colorectal Cancer Screening: Stool DNA and Other Noninvasive Modalities. Gut and Liver, 10(2), p.204.