For average-risk individuals, a screening is recommended starting at age 45.
People at a higher risk for colon cancer may need to start screening sooner and will require more frequent testing intervals. You may be at higher risk if you have a family history of colon cancer or precancerous polyps, if you have inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or Colitis, or if you engage in certain risky behaviors.
But what screening option is best for you? That is a decision for you and your doctor. We believe in being informed, however, and hope that this list of screening options is helpful for you as you and your doctor decide which is best.
The bottom line is this: colon cancer can be prevented by on-time screening. Several types of screening tests can be used to find polyps and colon cancer. Talk with your doctor about which option is right for you and the right time for you to be screened.
Stool based screening tests
There are several types of stool based screening tests that check for blood in your stool.They are called FOBT (sensitive guaiac test or sensitive fecal occult blood test) and FIT (fecal immunochemical test). These tests should be done once a year. A positive test requires further testing.
Another option is a product called Cologuard, which is a stool DNA test.
Colon screening tests
These tests allow doctors to check for polyps and cancer. They include the colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy.
The only test that allows the doctor to check inside the entire colon and remove polyps. It is the single most reliable test for the detection of polyps and cancer. Your doctor will examine the inside of your colon and rectum using a long, lighted tube called a colonoscopy. (Don’t worry – you’ll be under sedation!) Your doctor will check for abnormalities such as polyps. Generally, if a polyp is found, it can be removed with the scope. Removal of polyps is essential in the prevention of colon cancer. A colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years in a normal risk person. If polyps are found during a colonoscopy or if the person is at moderate or high risk for colon cancer, a more frequent evaluation may be needed.
Images of the colon and rectum are taken using computerized tomography (CT). A computer puts the images together to create an animated, three-dimensional view. If abnormalities are detected, a colonoscopy is necessary.