ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A new at-home test to screen for colorectal cancer is targeting Alaska Natives, who have high rates of the disease, and residents of rural villages, where access to standard methods of screening are low.
The test proved highly accurate in a 2012-14 study examining patients at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The easy-to-use test uses a stool sample to determine whether further treatment is needed.
“Basically, it’s like a poop-in-the-box sort of thing,” said Diana Redwood, head of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Colorectal Cancer Program. The stool, once boxed, is mailed to a laboratory; the quality of the test is unaffected if the sample freezes, “which in our state is a huge thing,” she said.
According to the ANTHC, colorectal cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer among Alaska Natives. Rates from 2009-13 were about twice as high as white U.S. residents.
It is not clear why Alaska Natives have such higher rates of colorectal cancer, Redwood said.
Factors associated with the cancer in the general population include obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use — all which may also apply to Alaska Natives, she said.
The new stool test, marketed under the brand name Cologuard, was developed by the biomedical company Exact Sciences. It is considered an advanced version of an older screening system called the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, which detects blood in the stool. But there are concerns with the FIT procedure because polyps — unusual growths lining colorectal tissue — create bleeding only some of the time and there are other causes of blood unrelated to colon cancer.
The most common method of looking for polyps is a colonoscopy. But few rural clinics offer the service, forcing many Alaska Natives to travel to Anchorage or other cities to get the examination.
The Cologuard test, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, serves as a way to break down that barrier to screening. Redwood said the cost of the test is also now covered by Medicaid and Medicare.
Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com