Patient Screenings & Tests for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer, and it is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths per year. However, 60% of colon cancer deaths could be prevented with regular screenings and early detection. For this reason, it is important to know your body and keep in contact with your physician.

Let’s look at some of the colorectal cancer screening and test options:

Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer

High Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT): Colorectal cancer and polyps have a tendency to bleed. This test checks for tiny amounts of blood in a patient’s stool. However, the presence of blood does not necessarily mean a patient has colorectal cancer.  

Stool DNA Test: This test also detects tiny amounts of blood in a patient’s stool, but it also detects for nine DNA biomarkers in three different genes that are often found in colorectal cancerous and precancerous cells.

Sigmoidoscopy: This test examines the sigmoid colon and rectum using a sigmoidoscope. A sigmoidoscope is an instrument made up of a flexible lighted tube, a lens for viewing, and a tool for removing tissue. This instrument expands the colon and allows the physician to get a better look at any abnormalities in the colon lining; it also allows for the physician to biopsy any abnormal growths.

Standard Colonoscopy: This test is perhaps the most common colorectal cancer screening procedure. Studies have shown that colonoscopies reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by between 60 and 70%. The test works like a sigmoidoscopy, except it can examine a longer area of the patient’s GI tract. It can detect and biopsy abnormal growths in the upper colon that sigmoidoscopes can’t reach.

Virtual Colonoscopy: This test is less common than a standard colonoscopy, but it is less invasive, as it is performed completely outside of the body. A virtual colonoscopy uses a combination of x-rays and computer software to create images of a patient’s colon. This test is basically a CT scan of the lower GI tract. After the image is created, the physician can then see any polyps or abnormalities, however, if abnormalities are detected, the patient usually has to undergo a standard colonoscopy in order to have the polyps biopsied.

Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE): The DCBE is another minimally invasive colon screening procedure. In this procedure, x-rays of a patient’s colon are taken after the patient is given an enema containing a barium solution. The barium helps to outline the patient’s colon and rectum on the x-ray images. This test is less effective at spotting smaller polyps and abnormalities but is usually used in lieu of a colonoscopy if a patient is at risk for complications.


Other Information

It is not clear what exactly causes colorectal cancer, but according to Dr. Rolando Sanchez MD, “some studies have shown that red meat cooked over an open flame can contribute to the development of polyps that can then possibly turn cancerous.” Because the causes are unknown and even linked to common habits, it is doubly important that you be on the lookout for symptoms, and always be honest and thorough with your physician.

Typically, a doctor recommends regular screening of the colon every 10 years for people who are at average risk as long as their test results are negative. A colorectal specialist will know the best particular screening test for you, as long as you provide them with all relevant information. To learn more about cancer screening tests, and colorectal surgery you can visit the National Cancer Institute’s website here.