Colon cancer screening
The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to have a colon cancer screening. When making a decision like this, you must balance:
This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Work with your doctor to help you make this decision. A second opinion from another doctor may be valuable. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.
Your physician may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to have this test rests with you.
What is the test?
If you are older than 50, your doctor will recommended that you have a colon cancer screening, to detect polyps and early cancers that can be treated before symptoms develop. If you have certain risk factors, you will need to start screening earlier or have screening tests more often. Regular screenings may decrease deaths and prevent suffering caused by colorectal cancer. This type of screening is as effective in saving lives as breast cancer screening.
There are four ways to screen for colon cancer. The first is a stool test (to check for blood in the stool). Most doctors recommend this be done every 1 to 2 years.
The second method is a sigmoidoscopy exam (a test that uses a flexible small scope to look at the lower part of your colon), recommended every 5 years. Many health care providers recommend that the stool test and the sigmoidoscopy be used together.
The third method is a colonoscopy exam. A colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy, but it allows your health care provider to view the entire colon. The patient usually is mildly sedated during a colonoscopy.
A fourth test is a double-contrast barium enema. This test is performed in the x-ray department. It does not require sedation, but you do need to prepare for the test by taking a laxative. Unlike with a colonoscopy, the doctor cannot remove, treat, or take a biopsy of any suspicious lesions or polyps during this test.
A fifth test is virtual colonoscopy. This test is performed in the x-ray department. This test combines computed tomography (CT) scans with sophisticated computer software. The test produces three-dimensional images of your colon and rectum on a computer screen. It is less invasive than regular colonoscopy.
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Review Date: 12/31/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Previously reviewed by Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Clinical Instructor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (10/18/2008).
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