Importance of Colon Cancer Screenings
Screening means checking for cancer before a person has symptoms. Regular screening is very important for colorectal cancer because it can often find cancer early, when it is likely to be easier to treat. In fact, colonoscopy screening can even prevent colorectal cancer because it enables physicians to find and remove growths inside the colon or rectum (colorectal polyps) before they develop into cancer.
Several tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. Some of these tests can also find colorectal polyps.
- Colonoscopy: This test looks at your rectum and your entire colon. It uses a colonoscope, which is a long, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. The scope is inserted into your rectum and up into your colon to look for polyps or other abnormal areas. These can be removed and sent to a lab for testing. This test usually requires sedation, where you are given medicine to make you sleepy during the test. A colonoscopy is the only test that lets the provider see the entire colon and rectum, and remove pieces of any abnormal areas for testing. If you have any of the other tests and something uncertain is found, you will likely need a colonoscopy.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This test looks at your rectum and the lower part of your colon. Your healthcare provider inserts a thin, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end into your rectum. The tube is called a sigmoidoscope. He or she looks for polyps or other abnormal areas. These can be removed and sent to a lab for testing.
- Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography): This test is a special type of CT scan of the colon and rectum. Once the CT images are taken, a computer combines them to create a 3-D picture. This lets the provider look for polyps or cancer.
The tests below look for signs of cancer already present in your stool or feces. These tests can be done at home. But they are less likely to find polyps and may need to be done more frequently.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT). These tests look for hidden or occult blood in the stool. Blood vessels in cancers and sometimes in polyps are easily broken during a bowel movement. This may cause blood to show up in your stool. For these tests, you collect a small amount of your stool with a brush or wooden applicator. Then you smear it on a special card that can find blood. In most cases you need to do this for a few bowel movements in a row. You then send the cards to your provider’s office or to a lab.
- Stool DNA test. This test looks for DNA changes in cells in the stool that might be signs of cancer. It also looks for hidden blood in stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement. This is done using a special container put in the toilet. The sample is sent to a lab for testing.
PIH Health Gastroenterologist, Ashwin Ashok MD, tells us, “People at average risk for colorectal cancer should start screening at age 50. But some people are at higher risk based on a personal or family history. They may also be at higher risk because of polyps or certain inherited syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, HNPCC), or inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis. These people might need to start screening at a younger age, and be screened more often than normal.”
Dr. Ashok also states, “It's important to know that if you have a test other than a colonoscopy and have an abnormal test result, you will need to follow-up with a colonoscopy, which is why we recommend a colonoscopy screening as the first choice. If cancer is found at an early stage during screening, treatment is more likely to work well and many cancers can even be prevented with these tests.”
To schedule a colonoscopy screening, call 562.967.2656, or to learn more about colon cancer prevention, go to PIHHealth.org/Colon.
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.