The abnormal cells that cause colon cancer typically form into polyps in the colon 10-15 years before they turn into cancer. These polyps can be found and removed during regular colon cancer screenings, which can help reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
If you are between the ages of 45-50, it is important to talk with your doctor about colon cancer screenings. When you start screenings and your screening frequency will depend on your risk factors for colon cancer.
There are several different tests doctors use to screen for colon cancer, including:
- Colonoscopy. During this test, we insert a thin, flexible tube (colonoscope) into the rectum and colon to look for polyps. The tube has a light and a camera on the end to help us find polyps. The polyps are usually removed during the colonoscopy and sent to a pathologist to test for cancerous cells.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test is similar to colonoscopy. The main difference is that your doctor will use a sigmoidoscope, which is a slightly smaller tube than the colonoscope.
- Virtual colonoscopy. This test uses CT scans to create 2-D and 3-D images of the colon and rectum, so doctors can check for unusual growths or polyps.
- Fecal occult blood test. This test checks for blood in the stool, which may be a sign of colorectal cancer.
- DNA stool test. This test checks blood and stool samples for changes in genes or DNA, which may be a sign of cancer. If the test shows an abnormality, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk with your physician about genetic testing. These tests can help determine whether you have an inherited (genetic) condition that can put you at a higher risk for developing colon cancer. If tests show that you do have one of these conditions, our team will work closely with you to develop a prevention and screening plan.
Surgery is still the best therapy for early cancers of the colon or rectum. With early detection, surgery offers 80- to 90-percent curability.