Colon cancer screening is recommended for people ages 50 to 75.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says colonoscopies every 10 years or annual fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) are equally good at preventing deaths from colon cancer.
Colonoscopies are preferred if you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, if you’re having symptoms such as rectal bleeding, or if you have a history of inflammatory bowel disease. These patients should decide in consultation with their doctors whether to begin screening before 50 and whether to screen more frequently than every 10 years.
For others, choosing which test may depend on these considerations:
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▪ Can be done on your own, at home. It is not available over-the-counter and must be prescribed by a doctor.
▪ Requires patient to come into brief close contact with feces and send sample to laboratory.
▪ May produce positive results even if no polyps or cancer are present.
▪ Detects most cancers early when done every year. A positive test would be followed by a colonoscopy to remove abnormal growths.
▪ Less expensive than colonoscopy – $22 compared with about $2,000. Both tests covered 100 percent by insurance.
▪ Examines inside of colon, or large intestine, and allows immediate removal of abnormal growths.
▪ Recommended every 10 years, instead of annually. That’s because, if you have a normal colonoscopy, it’s unlikely you will develop an advanced cancer in less than 10 years. Colon cancer starts as polyps that become abnormal and convert into cancer over a prolonged period. Early cancer is very treatable, and most polyps are benign.
▪ Patients drink liquid laxative to clean out colon prior to the test.
▪ Procedure involves snaking a flexible tube through the colon. Must be done in hospital or clinic because it requires anesthesia or sedation. A patient must take a day to recover and be accompanied by someone who can drive home after the procedure.
▪ Small risk of complications, such as bleeding or perforated colon.
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