Fighting Cancer with Innovation

Innovation and the rise of patient-centric healthcare.

Printed in recognition of Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Almost everyone knows someone who has battled cancer. The good news is that when detected early, many of the most common cancers are both treatable and survivable.

The challenge is that in order to detect cancer early, people have to get tested, but many avoid routine screening for some of the most common types of cancers because the tests themselves can be undesirable.

Take prostate and lung cancers, for example. In the past, getting a clear diagnosis often involved biopsy or surgery. Patients demanded better options and the healthcare industry responded with new, more patient-friendly options that still provide the critical information needed to make informed care decisions.

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The availability of convenient, reliable screening technology could very well be a critical link for early cancer detection.

In the case of prostate cancer, a simple urine test can now identify specific markers that could indicate cancer and has been shown to deliver more accurate results than the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test alone.

A new breathalyzer test currently under development has the potential to detect lung cancer and identify its stage of progression.

This demand for noninvasive testing options will only grow, and so the availability of convenient, reliable screening technology could very well be a critical link for early cancer detection, prevention and survivability. Nowhere is this truer than with colon cancer.

Evolution in colon cancer screening

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women. Guidelines recommend that people at average risk get regular screening starting at age 50. Unfortunately, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), as many as 23 million Americans in this age group are not getting screened as recommended.

The standard in colon cancer screening is the colonoscopy. What makes this test so effective is that doctors are able to visually inspect the colon for signs of cancer and then, during the same procedure, remove potentially problematic tissue or polyps. The removal of polyps reduces the chances that they will later develop into cancer.

As a result, colonoscopy is the only screening method shown to be effective in preventing cancer and decreasing mortality rates of colorectal cancer.

While colonoscopy is an effective screening option, many people have reservations about the test for a variety of reasons, including the invasive nature of the procedure, as well as the time and preparation on the patient’s part that it requires.

In the case of colon cancer, the critical need for noninvasive screening options that consumers are more likely to complete has driven the healthcare industry to innovate once again.

At-home tests fill an important gap

At-home tests such as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT) were developed to meet the need for noninvasive screening options. Both are designed to detect blood in the stool not seen by the naked eye. However, because not all polyps bleed and because blood can be an indicator of issues other than cancer, these tests are less accurate than colonoscopy and therefore must be completed every one to three years.

Another noninvasive, at-home screening tool called Cologuard was approved by the FDA last summer and is indicated for use by adults 50 and over who are at average risk for colon cancer. Cologuard, which is available by prescription only, analyzes stool to detect both blood and DNA associated with cancer and precancers.

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To make tests truly “simple” for patients, healthcare and logistics companies have to build “complex” infrastructures and processes.

Cologuard makes colon cancer screening simple and convenient. The collection kit is delivered directly to the patient’s residence via UPS and once the specimen is provided, it is picked up and sent to the lab for analysis.

Patients receive their test results from their doctor in about two weeks and if they get a positive result, their doctor will send them for a diagnostic colonoscopy. If the result is negative, patients should continue participating in a screening program at an interval and with a method appropriate for the individual patient.

(Cologuard is not for everyone, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about what test is right for you.)

What it all means

Demand has led to the development of cancer testing options that are noninvasive, easy to complete and patient-friendly.

The irony is that in order to make these tests truly “simple” for patients, healthcare and logistics companies have to build “complex” infrastructures and processes to make everything—from delivery of the test to a consumer’s home to pickup and shipment to the lab—timely and seamless. That’s where strategic partnerships and close alignment of needs and goals play an important role.

The very good news is that an ACS study recently found that a number of factors, including improvements in both cancer screening and treatment options, have contributed to a 22% drop in cancer deaths since 1991.

By working together to get innovative solutions into the hands of patients, I’m confident we’ll continue to see a decline for years to come. goldbrown2


Kevin Conroy is the Chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences, a molecular diagnostics company focused on the early detection and prevention of colon cancer.

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