The idea of a colonoscopy can seem scary or, at least, unpleasant. We’ll discuss some alternatives below. But remember, finding and removing possibly cancerous polyps as early as possible is the key to preventing colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of U.S. adults who should be getting screened for colon cancer aren’t.
You should have a colon cancer screening test beginning at age 50, and this applies to both men and women. If you have an increased risk for this kind of cancer, you might need to be tested earlier and more frequently. Risk factors include a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.
Colonoscopy is one of the most effective tests available for colon cancer screening. And the truth is, most people who have one say the procedure isn’t such a big deal. You’ll probably receive a sedative before it begins and many patients have no memory of the actual procedure or sleep right through it. They say the day of preparation for a colonoscopy—taking a laxative solution and staying on a liquid diet—is worse than the procedure itself!
The good news is there are additional options for testing you for colon cancer.
A sigmoidoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy, but the endoscope (a thin, flexible instrument with a video camera) examines the lower part of the colon, instead of the entire colon.
A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT) look for blood in the stool. You can do this at home by following the directions your doctor provided and sending the specimens to a lab.
A stool DNA test is a lab test used to look for DNA changes that are sometimes found in colon cancer cells. You take the test at home and send the specimens to a lab for analysis.
CT colonography is a CT scan taken of your rectum and lower intestines. This is also known as a “virtual colonoscopy.” You will lie on a moveable table while a scanner similar to an X-ray takes multiple images. Doctors use these images to search for polyps that could become dangerous.
The first thing you should do is take this online Colon Cancer Risk Assessment. Colon cancer is preventable, and catching it early is so much easier and safer than treating it later.