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The Importance of Colon Cancer Screenings

In the U.S., colon cancer (colorectal cancer) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in adults and the third leading cause of death by cancer in adults. And the recommendations for screenings have changed in recent years.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting routine colon cancer screenings at age 45. Routine screenings help doctors detect it early and begin treatment when it’s usually most effective.

There are several different test options for colorectal cancer screening.

Colonoscopy. These are the most sensitive colon cancer tests available. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a long flexible tube with a camera to look at the lining of the colon through the rectum to detect polyps. Sometimes cell samples are taken for analysis. Colonoscopies are typically performed every ten years if no abnormalities are found and you don't have an above average risk of colon cancer.

Sigmoidoscopy. Similar to colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies involve using a camera to inspect the colon directly for polyps and take samples. However, the camera is unable to see the entire colon. Because of this, sigmoidoscopies can't detect polyps or cell clumps that develop farther up the colon. Your doctor may recommend a sigmoidoscopy every five years if you’re at an average risk level.

Stool tests. There are two types of tests that analyze stool to look for signs of colon cancer or precancerous conditions:

  • Stool DNA test – This looks for changes in your cells that might indicate colon cancer and are usually done every three years.
  • Fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test – These check stool samples for hidden signs of blood, which can be a sign of colon cancer, and often are done annually.

Virtual colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopies involve using a CT scan to view images of the abdominal organs. Doctors can examine these images for any changes or abnormalities in the colon and rectum. Virtual colonoscopies are generally done every five years.

Each of these tests offer their own advantages. Keep in mind that everyone’s health is different. Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting screened for colon cancer and which test is right for you.

These screenings might sound unpleasant, but they’re worth it. Colon cancer screenings are covered in full for all FEP members when visiting a Preferred provider. Visit our Preventive Care page to learn more about what’s covered, including other cancer screenings.




Published on: October 13, 2022