Colon Cancer Screening

What’s the single best way to prevent colon cancer? Get a screening test. Screening helps prevent colon cancer by finding polyps and then removing them. Polyps are small, noncancerous tumors in the colon or rectum that sometimes turn into cancer. Screening also has the added bonus of finding cancer early if it does develop. Colon cancers found in early stages are much more curable than those found in later stages.

Most people should start getting screened for colon cancer at age 50. Those with a family history of the disease or otherwise at high risk may need to begin earlier. As for the specific test, there are a number recommended for colon cancer. They vary by how involved they are and how often you’re supposed to have them.

Talking with your doctor is the best way to figure out when you should begin screening and which test is best for you.

The recommended colon cancer screening options are:

Home Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
  • Done every year
  • You can do this test at home using a special kit from a doctor or nurse, which you then return to the office or mail to a lab. It tests samples of your bowel movement (stool) for blood that is not visible to the naked eye. Blood can be a sign of polyps or cancer.
Sigmoidoscopy
  • Done every five years
  • A doctor inserts a long, lighted tube into the rectum and part of the colon to check for polyps and cancer.
Virtual Colonoscopy
  • Done every five years
  • Air is used to gently widen the colon, then a computed tomography (CT) scan takes images that can help find polyps or cancer.
Colonoscopy
  • Done every 10 years
  • This test is very similar to sigmoidoscopy but is able to check the entire colon for polyps and cancer, rather than just one section.

To learn more about colon cancer screening, visit the Center for Disease Control’s Screen for Life program or the American Cancer Society website.

Click on the podcast links below to hear Siteman Cancer Center gastroenterologist Dayna Early, MD, discuss issues related to colon cancer screening:

Is Virtual Colonoscopy a Suitable Alternative?
Colonoscopy Saves Lives