Colon Cancer Screening: A Life Saving Tool

While colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, there is some positive news. First, the death rate from colon cancer has declined over the past 20 years. Second, experts believe that this is due in part to the availability of very effective screening tools that identify colon cancer early, when treatment is the most effective. Unfortunately, only two out of 10 eligible people take advantage of this important screening tool.

Georgetown GI offers a comprehensive screening program designed to find polyps (noncancerous growths) and cancer before symptoms develop. The most common screening techniques used are:

  • fecal occult blood test, which looks for blood in the stool
  • digital rectal exam, during which a physician or health care provider inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for anything unusual
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy, which uses an endoscope to examine the inside of the rectum and sigmoid colon
  • colonoscopy, which uses a longer endoscope than the sigmoidoscope to examine the enitire colon lining.

Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Current guidelines from the American Cancer Society are:

Beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these five screening options:

  • Yearly fecal occult blood test; all positive tests should be followed by a colonoscopy,
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • Yearly fecal occult blood test plus sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
  • Colonoscopy every 7-10 years.

People should begin screening earlier or have screening more often if they have any of the following colon cancer risk factors:

  • A strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, meaning a parent, sibling or child who developed cancer or polyps younger than age 60
  • Families with hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or
  • A personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease