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With colon cancer screenings now advised at age 45, Exact Sciences hoping to capitalize
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COLORECTAL CANCER | NEW SCREENING GUIDELINES

With colon cancer screenings now advised at age 45, Exact Sciences hoping to capitalize

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New guidelines have moved the recommended age to start getting screened for colon cancer from age 50 to 45, which could also have major implications for Madison-based Exact Sciences Corp., the biotech company behind the at-home colon cancer screening test Cologuard.

The new guidelines released Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, made up of a panel of experts that develops recommendations for clinical services, add an estimated 19 million Americans to the age group recommended for colorectal cancer screenings.

"There were millions of people in a three month period of time who did not get their normal screening, and [a group of modelers] project that that will lead to an additional 10 thousand deaths from colon and breast cancer," Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said. "It's imperative that we get people back in to get a screening colonoscopy, or a Cologuard test, or a screening mammography....Cancer doesn't wait for COVID." Conroy discussed how there is overall drop off of 20 to 30 percent in the number interactions with health care even with telemedicine in Wisconsin. Exact Sciences' in-home Cologuard test has maintained its level of use during the COVID-19 crisis, and physicians are using this time to study the data on Cologuard as well as order it for patients without seeing them to make sure they get screened. "Our goal is to go from 60 to 65 percent of people screened in this country to 90 or 100 percent, and you can do that with a non-invasive test that you can do in the privacy of your home like Cologuard."

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Dr. Durado Brooks, deputy chief medical officer with Exact Sciences’ Screening Business Unit, described the new guidelines, which bring task force recommendations in line with American Cancer Society recommendations to lower the screening age to 45 in 2018, as “a win for public health.”

“It eliminates any questions and confusion on the part of providers or the public about when you can start,” Brooks said. “Everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet right now. Everybody gets started at 45.”

The task force last year continued to endorse Cologuard as an option for screening 50- to 75-year-old patients for colorectal cancer and, for the first time, it also recommended Cologuard as an option for patients ages 45 to 49.

Colorectal cancer is one of the nation’s leading cancer killers, claiming about 50,000 lives a year. Overall, cases and deaths have inched down in recent years, thanks in part to screening tests that can spot tumors early — or even prevent them by removing precancerous growths.

Colorectal cancer is most common in older adults and the task force has long recommended that people ages 50 to 75 get screened. But the rate of new cases before age 50 has been rising since the early 2000s. So the new guidelines say adults at average risk of colorectal cancer should be screened from ages 45 to 75.

“It’s not an old person’s disease,” Exact Sciences spokesperson Scott Larrivee said.

The decision, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, means most insurance plans would have to cover the screenings with no copay.

“I think the task force recommendations, because of its close link to insurance coverage, may increase the ease and availability with which younger individuals are able to access Cologuard or other screening methods,” Brooks said.

However, Brooks added, even before the new guidelines were published, about one in every three individuals who should have been up-to-date on colorectal cancer screenings were not.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on most aspects of health care also has caused an “extreme disruption” on cancer screenings, he added.

“There’s a big backlog of people out there who need to get screened and that was prior to adding in this new group of folks,” he said.

How often people need to get checked depends on the type of screening they choose. There are a variety of options, including yearly stool-based tests or colonoscopies that may be done every 10 years.

But about 1 in 4 people between ages 50 and 75 have never been screened for the disease.

Earlier this month, Exact Sciences announced the molecular diagnostics company generated about $402 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2021, which ended March 31, compared with about $348 million in the same period last year.

“The first quarter demonstrated Exact Sciences is well-positioned for growth today and into the future,” Kevin Conroy, chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Our Cologuard and Oncotype tests help people in need of answers, including those who have been vulnerable during the pandemic.”

The company anticipates between $1.69 billion and $1.74 billion in revenue during 2021.

Exact Sciences shares rose by 2.02% on Tuesday, following the task force’s recommendations, to $96.58 per share. That’s still down from $127.53 per share one month ago, but up from $83.09 per share a year ago.

Exact Sciences’ stock price surged last fall, rising to $131.12 per share in late October in response to both the task force’s endorsement of Cologuard cancer screenings for 45- to 49-year-old patients, as well as announcements that the company planned to acquire two companies specializing in cancer-screening blood tests.

Shares rose to just over $155 per share in February of this year, before beginning to drop over the course of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This year’s top-ranked large organization, with about 590 Madison-area employees, UW Credit Union has made diversity a priority during the past few years. 

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To become a Top Workplace, organizations instill in their team members a variety of values and approaches that keep their businesses thriving in the marketplace, their employees engaged and their communities strong.

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