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The DNA Way

While there are various screening tools to detect colorectal cancer, people skip them due to expense, the uncomfortable nature of the screen, having to take time off work, or having to handle stool samples, the New York Times' Well blog says. It adds that researchers are working on developing other screening tools that may be better tolerated by patients.

One tool, the blog's Denise Grady writes, is Exact Sciences' Cologuard test, which was recently written up in the New England Journal of Medicine. That research, which was funded by the company making the test, found that the DNA-based stool test was more sensitive than the existing fecal immunochemical test for detecting colorectal cancers, though it had a higher rate of false positives.

The American Cancer Society's Robert Smith tells Grady that new screening tests like that are good as more options are needed, though the University of Minnesota's David Rothenberger says he is concerned about the test's limited sensitivity to detect polyps.

Both Cologuard and FIT has low sensitivity, 42.4 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively, for detecting precancerous lesions. Detecting polyps, Rothenberger says, is where colonoscopy, which was not compared to the fecal tests in the study, excels.

A US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is to review Cologuard's premarket approval application this week.