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Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives

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Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important. Image for illustration purposes
Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important. Image for illustration purposes
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Regular screening, beginning at age 45, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum). If you’re 45 to 75 years old, get screened for colorectal cancer regularly. If you’re younger than 45 and think you may be at high risk of getting colorectal cancer, or if you’re older than 75, talk to your doctor about screening.

Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.

Screening Test Options

Several screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer, including some that you can do at home. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each test, and how often to be tested.

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Stool Tests

  • The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. It is done once a year. For this test, you receive a test kit from your health care provider. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood.
  • The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It is also done once a year in the same way as a gFOBT.
  • The FIT-DNA test (also referred to as the stool DNA test) combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this test, you collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab, where it is checked for altered DNA and for the presence of blood. It is done once every three years.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

For this test, the doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum. The doctor checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.

How often: Every 5 years, or every 10 years with a FIT every year.

Colonoscopy

This is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.

How often: Every 10 years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer).

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CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)

Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.

How often: Every 5 years.

How Do I Know Which Screening Test Is Right for Me?

Each test has advantages and disadvantages. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each test, and how often to be tested. Which test to use depends on—

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