Colorectal Cancer Screenings

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Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States among men and women. If caught early, colon cancer's five-year survival rate is 90 percent which is why it is so important to take preventive measures. Several screening tests can detect polyps or colorectal cancer. If you are at "average risk" (meaning colon cancer does not run in your family and you haven't had any colon complications in the past), it is recommended to start screening for colon cancer starting at 50 years old. While screenings are generally recommended starting at age 50, some organizations and physicians suggest 45 is the right age to start screening. It is generally acknowledged that earlier screenings may be appropriate for those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or digestive system disorders.

Talk to your doctor about which test may be right for you.


A colonoscopy is the most common and thorough colon cancer screening, but is also important to remember that it is invasive and requires a bowel preparation the day before. A tube with a small camera on the end is used to look inside the colon and rectum for abnormal areas that might be cancer or polyps. If you are healthy and colon cancer does not run in your family, it is recommended to get a colonoscopy once every 10 years beginning at the age of 50.

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If you are 50 or older and at average risk for colon cancer, a Cologuard screening every three years may be right for you. Cologuard is a noninvasive screening available by prescription only. While a colonoscopy allows a doctor to thoroughly examine your colon, the Cologuard has no visual component. Instead it tests DNA from stool samples for the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells. Something important to note is that patients who test positive on a Cologuard test would need to follow up with a colonoscopy.


Like a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy is a test that uses a thin flexible tube with a camera at the end to look in the colon. While a colonoscopy examines the entire colon, a sigmoidoscopy covers only the lower part of the colon, including the rectum and sigmoid colon. Although you are not sedated during a sigmoidoscopy, it is less thorough than a colonoscopy, and abnormalities in the upper section of the colon will go undetected.

CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)

A test called CT Colonography is a scan of the colon and rectum that produces detailed cross-sectional images so the doctor can look for polyps or cancer. It requires bowel prep (same as colonoscopy), but no sedation. Air is pumped into the rectum and colon, and then a CT scanner is used to take images of the colon. If something is seen that may need to be biopsied, a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed. CT colonography must be done every 5 years.

Talk to your primary care doctor about which colon cancer screening is right for you. While the reccommended age to start screening for colon cancer is 50, remember that risk factors such as family history, and previous colorectal issues play a part in when you should get screened. It is also important to check with your insurance company and see which tests your insurance covers.

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