Screening tests are specific tests designed to detect disease before you develop symptoms. In other words, in its silent early stage. When it comes to colon cancer, symptoms are often a sign that the disease has become advanced, making treatment more difficult, and your outcome may be worse. Symptoms of colon cancer can be bleeding with bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, new onset of constipation or loose stool. More subtle symptoms can be as vague as fatigue or even becoming short of breath with activities.
Finding colon cancer early requires screening. Adults should generally start being tested at age 50. At this age you have about a 1/3 chance of having a precancerous colon polyp. These colon polyps are silent and if allowed to remain, generally turn cancerous. Things that make you more predisposed to colon cancer and polyps are,
- Family history of colon polyps or cancer
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol use
- Obesity and a high fat diet
Doctors use several tests to screen for colon polyps and cancer
- Colonoscopy- this test allows the physician to see inside the colon and painlessly remove any polyps at the same time. Even small cancers can be removed during a colonoscopy.
There is some risk of trauma to the bowel wall during a colonoscopy but this risk is very uncommon. Colonoscopy is the most effective test to detect and prevent colon cancer. This test is usually done every 5-10 years depending on the patient and findings.
- Stool tests
There are 2 main types of stool tests available for screening.
One type detects blood in the stool sample that cannot be seen, in other words occult blood.
If this test detects microscopic amounts of blood, a colonoscopy will be done.
The other tests would be a DNA test- like Cologuard. This test is designed to detect cancer not polyps. If test is positive, it also requires a colonoscopy.
Stool tests have a risk of false results and are not as accurate as colonoscopies.
- Being screened for colon cancer is very important for all of us. Your doctor is your best guide to which test is best for you and you will be offered this important screening test at your yearly visit. Please agree to be screened because this test can save lives.