Only lung cancer kills more Americans than colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer and colon and rectum cancer). The good news is that the disease is highly beatable and treatable when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage. That's why it's so important to make colon cancer screening a priority.
If you are at average risk of colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends all men over the age of 50 to undergo one of the following screening tests:
- A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) once a year. The FOBT, which can be done at home, screens for invisible amounts of blood by testing small samples of stool for three consecutive days. The FIT is very much like the FOBT but perhaps a little easier to do and gives fewer false positive results.
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years. A doctor uses an endoscope —a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end—to examine the inner lining of the rectum and the last two feet of the colon, where many cancers and polyps develop. The test usually is performed in a doctor's office and does not require any anesthesia.
- An annual fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test and a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
Of these first three options, the combination of FOBT or FIT every year plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years is preferable.
- A double contrast barium enema every five years. In this procedure, barium, which is a liquid, and air are introduced into the large bowel by means of a tube inserted into the rectum; x-rays then are taken to identify any abnormalities.
- A colonoscopy every 10 years. This test is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy, but it provides a view of the entire colon and allows the health care professional to perform a biopsy or polypectomy at a single setting. The procedure typically is performed in a hospital or physician's office, and the patient is given a sedative to alleviate any discomfort.
Virtual colonoscopy is a relatively new screening technique that uses a CT scan to create a three-dimensional image to evaluate the bowel—sort of a super x-ray of the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to cause it to expand, and then a special CT scan is done.
Other tests that your health care provider might perform include:
- Digital rectal examination (DRE)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Genetic testing
People at high risk for colon cancer include those individuals with a history of the disease; a history of colorectal polyps; and African Americans, who are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than any other ethnic group. Colorectal polyps are benign or cancerous tumors found in the colon. An adenomatous polyp is considered a precancerous condition because a fraction of these growths can turn into cancerous tumors if not removed.
Learn about preventative measures you can take today.